Looking like a wily ol' veteran instead of a rookie, Smith calmly guided the New York Jets to another victory.
Smith threw three touchdown passes and directed a drive that set up Nick Folk's 43-yard field goal on the final play, giving the Jets a 30-28 victory over the staggering Falcons on Monday night.
"It's always been a dream of mine since I was a kid to be in those situations," Smith said.
After the Falcons went ahead on Matt Ryan's 3-yard touchdown pass to Levine Toilolo with 1:54 remaining, Smith completed four straight passes and broke off an 8-yard run that set up Folk's field goal as time expired.
The Jets (3-2) have been waiting for this sort of performance from Smith, who came into the game leading the NFL with 11 turnovers, including eight interceptions. He completed 16 of 20 passes for 199 yards and threw almost as many touchdown passes as the four he had in the first four games.
"My confidence is always sky-high," Smith said. "Nothing can bring me down."
Smith put in extra work at practice to cut down on the turnovers, and it paid off. He was sacked four times but never lost the ball.
"It's a mindset," he said. "I made it my duty to come out here and not put the ball on the ground and not put my team in jeopardy."
But they couldn't stop Smith when it mattered.
"He's a rookie," Atlanta safety William Moore said, "and we make him look like a 10-year veteran."
Considered a Super Bowl contender at the beginning of the season, Atlanta is mired in a three-game longest losing streak -- its longest since 2007 -- heading into a bye week.
The Jets led 17-7 after a goal-line stand on the final play of the first half, which turned out to be awful big at the end of the game.
Atlanta had two cracks at the end zone on fourth-and-goal from the 1. The first attempt resulted in an incomplete pass, but the Jets were called for pass interference when they grabbed Tony Gonzalez as he tried to get open.
The Falcons again passed on a chip-shot field goal and instead decided to hand it to their smallest back -- Rodgers is 5-foot-6, 196 pounds -- for a power run behind their shaky offensive line. Rodgers was swallowed up by the New York line, sending the Jets racing off the field in celebration while the Falcons staggered to their locker room to a round of boos from the Georgia Dome crowd.
Rodgers and the Falcons rallied in the second half.
The diminutive back scored on a 4-yard run midway through the third quarter, then broke off a 19-yard score to cut the Jets' lead to 27-21 with 8:10 remaining. The Falcons surged ahead, taking advantage of a holding call on DeMario Davis after the Jets batted down a pass to Rodgers. Two plays later, Ryan hooked up with Toilolo, a tight end known more for his blocking.
But New York had plenty of time to pull off the winning drive.
Smith completed a 12-yard pass to Stephen Hill, a 13-yarder to Jeremy Kerley, and went to Hill again on a 9-yarder. Smith scrambled around left end to the Atlanta 38. After one more Smith completion, the Jets let the clock run down and sent on their kicker.
There was no doubt about it.
"I hit it pretty solid," Folk said. "As soon as I saw it go and get up in the air, I knew it was pretty good."
Ryan completed 36 of 45 passes for 319 yards. Gonzalez had 10 receptions for 97 yards and became just the second player in NFL history to catch a pass in 200 consecutive games, trailing only Jerry Rice (274). Julio Jones had eight catches for 99 yards.
The Falcons were missing six starters because of injuries, and the medical report grew longer. Receiver Roddy White went out with a hamstring injury, and Snelling didn't return after sustaining a concussion. In the fourth quarter, Atlanta got so far down the depth chart that a trio of third stringers contributed -- Kevin Cone caught a big third-down pass, Antone Smith had a key run, and Toilolo scored the go-ahead touchdown.
It wasn't enough.
"What are we going to do, sit here and feel sorry for ourselves?" Gonzalez said. "I'm not going to put my hands up and say the season is over."
Mike Goodson rushed for 32 yards on three carries in his first game for the Jets. He was suspended the first four games for violating the NFL's substance-abuse policy. ... The Jets rushed for 118 yards on 22 carries, averaging 5.4 yards. ... Osi Umenyiora had two sacks for Atlanta.
- Bill Leavy