Gutsy Geno puts poetry in motion

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Geno Smith was all of 11 years old when Tom Brady won his first Super Bowl, and so the kid's formative years were spent watching the quarterback of the New England Patriots become an American legend on his living room TV.

"His cool, calm demeanor always impressed me," Smith said in a quiet moment Sunday after he beat Brady man to man, fair and square, in only his seventh NFL game.

"When you watched Tom Brady on TV," Smith continued, "it seemed the entire game slowed down, just the way he operated and would lead his team. The way he stood back there in the pocket, it almost seemed like poetry in motion."

Smith was done outplaying the one and only, done with a news conference he spent deflecting the personal significance of the feat when a reporter asked if Rex Ryan's raging case of Brady envy had bothered him. "Shoot," Rex had said days earlier, "I'll take their quarterback and we'll see how many wins I'd have," which isn't the kind of thing a coach ordinarily says to instill confidence in his rookie starter.

No, Smith wasn't angered by his coach's stated preference for the enemy franchise's franchise player.

"But I was definitely motivated," Smith told ESPNNewYork.com. "You want to get to [Brady's] level. You want to reach that status, but even Brady will tell you that it takes time, that you can't do it all in one year. So I didn't take it in a way that [Ryan] was saying it against me, or at me.

"I took it in a proper way, and as a competitor I used it as motivation."

Smith used it to beat Brady's Patriots by a 30-27 count in overtime, to avenge the rain-soaked loss in Foxborough, and to end New England's five-game winning streak over the Jets and 12-game winning streak over the AFC East. He used it to establish himself as the best quarterback on the MetLife Stadium field by any statistical or eye-test measure.

Only one man threw for a touchdown, ran for a touchdown and completed at least 50 percent of his passes, and his name wasn't Thomas Edward Patrick Brady Jr. Geno Smith had a lot of help from the offensive line, from the rough-running Chris Ivory, and from a defense that made the plays it had to make against Brady and the returning Rob Gronkowski, including Antonio Allen's interception return for a touchdown at the start of the third quarter that flipped the game upside down.

But everyone knows the entire sport revolves around one position, and Brady entered the day with three rings and 158 regular-season and postseason victories, or three rings and 155 more regular-season and postseason victories than had been claimed by his 23-year-old foe.

And when Smith threw his own pick-six in the first quarter, a ghastly floater that Logan Ryan returned 79 yards to give the Patriots a 14-7 lead, he was half expected to fall apart right then and there.

A lot of rookies in that situation would've crumbled under the Patriot way, Smith was told.

"I'm never going to crumble," he responded, "no matter what happens. That's just not in me. It's much harder for me to give up than to try."

So he tried pretty damn hard to topple the quarterback and head coach, Bill Belichick, who have owned the Jets as much as Woody Johnson has. The same Patriots who made a Thanksgiving night feast of the home team the last time they showed up in this ballpark.

Smith had been much like the Jets over the first six weeks -- up and down and all over the place, following a spirited Monday night victory in Atlanta with a no-show at home against the winless Pittsburgh Steelers. Matched against an old wizard, Pittsburgh defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau, Smith came across as an amateur in need of a seminar or three.

His quarterbacks coach, David Lee, gave him a mini-pep talk instead. Lee told the rookie early in the week that he'd have to make two plays with his legs to beat the Patriots.

"I think Coach Lee may have a good job being a psychic or something," Smith said Sunday.

On third-and-14 at the New England 24, Jets down 21-17 in the third quarter, Smith had scrambled left and raced for the distant marker, plowing into Marquice Cole a couple yards shy of his destination before lunging forward for the first down. Two plays later, Smith had rolled right, faked out Cole, and taken a heavy hit as he powered across the goal line to give the Jets the lead.

The fans chanted, "Gee-no … Gee-no," even though Smith comically botched the spike, and for good cause: These were plays the hopelessly immobile Brady couldn't have made in his wildest dreams.

"He's a fearless guy," Ryan said of his quarterback, "but I wouldn't say he outplayed Brady."

I would. Smith wasn't just the better man on the run; he was the more accurate thrower from the pocket, completing 17 of 33 passes for 233 yards to Brady's 22 of 46 for 228. Smith's Jets converted 11 of 21 third-down chances, while Brady's Patriots went a stunning 1-for-12.

"I was impressed with [Smith's] accuracy, how he throws the ball and attacks the ball down field," said Josh Cribbs, the new return man. "He's not a running quarterback even though he can run. He's not that guy who's going to take off and run every play.

"You have to fear him in the pocket, and he showed the Patriots' defense that, and with a higher passer rating than Tom Brady."

That higher passer rating didn't prevent offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg from embracing a strategy that Ann Coulter would've found too conservative; he called 11 consecutive running plays in overtime to set up the winning field goal. If Smith wasn't afraid of the circumstances, his coaches were afraid of the possibility the rookie might suddenly make a rookie mistake.

So be it. As it turned out, the Jets caught the mother of all breaks on Nick Folk's missed 56-yarder when officials flagged New England's Chris Jones for unsportsmanlike conduct on an illegal push, the first such call in NFL history. All these years later, the Patriots were finally paying for the Tuck Rule. Or Spygate. Or both.

Folk nailed the shorter do-over, and that was that. Geno Smith had the fourth victory of his career, and the first over someone on the short-list of all-time greats.

"Going up against Tom, that's just enough for me," Smith said after the game and his news conference were complete. "Just being in the NFL and having an opportunity to compete against a team like the New England Patriots, coached by Bill Belichick, and to get a victory for my teammates, that's what it's all about."

Next week in Cincinnati, Smith and the Jets might very well revert to their win-one, lose-one form. But this Sunday is a memory that will endure. For that 11-year-old kid who grew up watching Tom Brady on TV, it had to feel a bit like poetry in motion.