Geno Smiths Body Language Sports writer notices body language After Jets Fifth Straight Loss Smith Says He Remains Optimistic
Oct. 12, 2014 10:14 p.m. ET
The words could have been patronizing coming from anyone but Peyton Manning. He is arguably the greatest of all time, a future Hall of Famer on the brink of breaking the NFL record for passing touchdowns.
So the Jets’ Geno Smith listened as the two quarterbacks met for the traditional postgame handshake after Denver’s 31-17 win Sunday at MetLife Stadium.
“Keep your head up, keep at it,” Manning said, as Smith recalled.
His obscene outburst at a Jets fan notwithstanding, Smith is often difficult to read. He doesn’t sport the famously glum “Manning face” that Peyton and especially his brother, Giants quarterback Eli Manning, do when things aren’t going well. He said Sunday evening that he remains “optimistic.”
But Smith’s body language shows that he realizes he has become a league-wide punch line.
Even “Saturday Night Live” is in on the joke. About 12 hours before kickoff Sunday, Weekend Update anchor Colin Jost quipped that Smith celebrated his 24th birthday on Friday, but “sadly, when Smith blew out the candles, his birthday wish was intercepted and returned for a touchdown.”
It turned out to be a prescient joke, after Smith’s desperate, last-minute heave on Sunday ended up in the hands of Denver’s Aqib Talib, who trotted into the end zone to clinch the game.
Even after the cursing incident, which followed a two-turnover performance against Detroit on Sept. 28, Smith bristled at a reporter who asked whether backup Michael Vickcould provide a spark for the team for a quarter of a game. Smith said that “didn’t make sense” and then told the reporter, who had tried to ask a follow-up question, “That’s not a question. Next question.”
The fieriness cooled into icy sobriety just days later, after Smith was benched during halftime in the Jets’ 31-0 loss to San Diego. As head coach Rex Ryan spoke at a spirited postgame news conference in a windowless, air-condition-less room, I saw Smith sneak into a folding chair to Ryan’s right. His arms rested on his thighs and he stared straight ahead. I had spent the previous week interviewing him about his 22-year-old adopted brother, who is also his apartment-mate and confidant, so I tried to make eye contact with him. The quarterback either ignored me or didn’t see me, confined to his own melancholy mind.
If he was more engaged after Sunday’s loss to Denver, it was barely noticeable. Smith improved on his 4-for-12 performance from a week ago by finishing Sunday 23-of-43 with two touchdowns and that one last-minute interception. He has now thrown six touchdowns and seven interceptions this season.
After the game, he never complained about his offensive line, which for the second straight week gave him little time to throw, nor about his receivers, who dropped three important passes. Uncharacteristically, though, he did assign some blame to his running backs, who gained just 20 yards on 13 carries, before catching himself.
“Obviously, we’ve got to run the ball better,” he said. “But the passing game should be able to pick it up.”
I asked how he was feeling at that moment, with Jets 1-6 on the season and looking ahead to a Thursday night matchup in New England. He gave the obvious answer. “I’m frustrated,” he said. “Five losses in a row obviously has everyone frustrated. But I’m optimistic.”
He said Thursday’s game would give the team a quick chance to bounce back. Someone else asked Smith how he could stay optimistic as the ship continued to sink. The question seemed to surprise him.
“I wake up every day and I get another chance at life,” he said. “That’s good enough for me.”
Stu Woo at Stu.Woo@wsj.com