FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Geno Smith's final throw of the night came as he walked through the tunnel on the way to the New York Jets' locker room. Frustrated by three fourth-quarter interceptions, equaling Mark Sanchez's total from last season, Smith fired a towel toward the wall.
And, miraculously, Clyde Gates wasn't there to drop it.
Smith showed accountability, accepting full responsibility for the 13-10 loss to the New England Patriots on Thursday night at Gillette Stadium. Yeah, he was bad, but his teammates were worse. At least Smith had an excuse; he's a rookie, and there will be more games like this as we watch the Education of Geno over the next few months. For his offensive teammates, there was no excuse.
The Jets dropped six passes, including three by Gates, and came unraveled in a fourth quarter that included a melee in the final seconds. D'Brickashaw Ferguson and Willie Colon, a couple of seasoned pros, were ejected, typifying the night for the Jets.
They lost their cool and self-destructed. You could almost hear Bill Belichick laughing from the sideline.
Smith took it hard. When he got to the locker room, he was so down that fellow rookie Sheldon Richardson felt the need to walk over and give a mini pep talk. "Gotta let it go," Richardson told him. He saw the disappointment in Smith's face.
The NFL is a humbling league. Four days ago, Smith was being hailed for his fourth-quarter cool in the Jets' gift win over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. On this night, he was a mess in the fourth quarter, completing as many passes to the other team as he did to his own -- three.
"There were costly mistakes that were completely on me," Smith said. "I didn't get it done. I take full responsibility for it. I will get better."
It's no wonder Sanchez is hoping to return, hinting that he'll postpone shoulder surgery until after the season. He probably thinks he will have an opportunity to get his old job back. We know how he feels about the quarterback situation, telling the NFL Network before the game, "I won the competition, no doubt."
Sanchez would've won it by default because Smith threw three interceptions against the New York Giants in a preseason game. Basically, he replayed the same nightmare against the Patriots, costing his team over and over.
"Obviously," Rex Ryan said, "he wishes he had a few back."
The first interception was a classic rookie mistake. In range for a potential game-tying field goal, Smith was flushed to his left and forced a third-down pass across his body to Santonio Holmes. It was intercepted by Aqib Talib.
"During that time of the game, I have to be more mindful of the situation," said Smith, who completed only 15 of 35 passes for 214 yards and a horrible passer rating of 27.6. "I made a decision that ultimately cost my team."
This was no easy task, facing the Patriots on a short week. In fact, no rookie quarterback had ever defeated a Belichick-coached team in Foxborough. Smith was the fifth to fail, but you know what? At least he had a shot in the fourth quarter.
Then came an interception by Alfonzo Dennard, who stepped in front of an off-target throw to Gates. Then, with less than a minute to play, Smith received another chance to pull it out. This time, there were no gifts from Lavonte David. Smith served up another interception to Talib on a bad throw to Stephen Hill.
"A terrible mistake," Smith said. "It hurt. I can't lie, it hurt, but it's only the beginning. We've got to get better from it."
Smith accepted too much responsibility, but he wasn't about to call out his butterfingered receivers. Aside from Gates, Bilal Powell, Ryan Spadola and Hill also dropped one apiece. Hill also lost a fumble, which set up a Patriots field goal.
If the Jets hope to be competitive this season, the supporting cast has to elevate its play to compensate for Smith's inevitable growing pains. That's how they did it in 2009, when Sanchez was a rookie. He benefited from the top-ranked running attack and the top-ranked defense.
The defense did its job, forcing Tom Brady into Tim Tebow-like passing numbers. He actually completed less than 50 percent of his attempts (19-for-39) for the first time since 2009, thanks to a supporting cast of practice squad talent. If Smith had a modicum of help from his teammates, the Jets would've won the game.
A great quarterback surrounded by kids, even on an off night, was good enough to beat a kid surrounded by veterans.
"I don't like to look at it as a learning experience, because I think I'm ready for this," Smith said. "I know I'm ready for this."
Can his teammates say the same?