Somewhere between an opening scoring drive that included 14 plays and a postgame expletive that involved a New York Jets fan, Geno Smith might have cost Rex Ryan his job.
Make no mistake about it: Despite the contract extension he signed in January, Ryan entered this season in a do-or-die situation. I'll give Jets ownership some credit for salvaging a lame-duck-coach scenario, but Ryan's contract is heavy with postseason incentives and outs, suggesting he could be fired without being owed a ton of money.
With the Jets now 1-3 (following a 24-17 home loss to the Detroit Lions) and starting a quarterback who has thrown 26 interceptions in just 20 career games, that possible scenario is seeming more like a realistic outcome.
Eventually, it might click for Smith, who's still just 23 years old, but Ryan doesn't have the luxury of waiting for eventually. He gave Smith a vote of confidence in the postgame news conference, but this simply doesn't make sense for a coach in his position. He needs to make the move to veteran backup Michael Vick. Of course, that's not to suggest this decision can be made without certain caveats coming into play.
The Jets are clearly at a fork in the road, and Ryan just might be in a no-win situation. If he stays with Geno Smith, Ryan most likely loses his job, in my estimation. If he goes with Vick, the veteran might spark a win or two, but eventually, he will get hurt or showcase his own turnover issues -- and the Jets will be right back where they started. And once you go down the latter path, I'm not sure you can ever truly go back.
This decision could be a case study of today's NFL. Is this a coach's league or a general manager's league? Because in this scenario, those two parties clearly weigh this decision using two completely different mindsets.
General manager John Idzik isn't as myopically interested in the short term. Winning a few games with Vick at the helm hardly seems worth the potential sacrifice of Smith's future. After all, how do you tell a kid, "You aren't good enough for us to win ..." and then, out of necessity a month later, hand him the ball back and ask him to go win you a game? And history suggests that would be exactly the case for Gang Green. Throughout the course of his career, Vick has logged 16 games in just one season. In fact, he hasn't played more than 10 since 2011. From 2012 to now, his completion percentage (57.0) and touchdown-to-interception ratio (17:13) aren't a whole lot more attractive than Smith's figures. So it's easy to see why upper management would question the rationale for making a change. Whether it's because of an injury or he's committing the same offensive mishaps, Vick very well could force the Jets to turn right back to Smith. In the grand scheme of things, would the franchise really be any better off sampling Vick rather than just letting Smith play through growing pains with an eye to the future?
As a coach, I'm certainly keeping the larger picture in mind, but nearly all of my focus revolves around one simple question: Who gives us the best chance to win immediately? To me, that person is Vick. I say that with an understanding that the passing game isn't going to be markedly different under Vick, because changing quarterbacks isn't going to change the fact that the Jets aren't particularly dynamic at the wide receiver position. (If your pass catchers aren't getting any separation, the quarterback isn't going to spark much of a change in the aerial attack.) But I do make the move with the idea that Vick can enhance a ground game that is already the most impressive component of the offense, ranking second in the NFL through Sunday. The Jets simply can't afford to go three-and-out five times in a row, like they did in the first half against the Lions. They have to keep drives alive, and if Vick's legs can do that, I'm going all-in on that strategy. (Again, knowing that we are just one hit away from giving the ball back to Geno anyway.) As a coach, especially a coach in Ryan's shoes, being able to win immediately is much more valuable than Smith's long-term development.
I'm not naïve to the fact that Ryan and Idzik are already having these conversations behind the scenes. Publicly, they will come to a "team decision," but privately, both are positioning themselves for the future and their role in that future. If the "team decision" continues to fall on the side of Geno, Ryan can't be expected to push all his chips to the center of the table. There has to be an unwritten agreement that it won't cost him his job when the Jets look up in a month and still have just one win. And that's not even an exaggeration, with trips to San Diego and New England sandwiched around a home game against Denver over the next 17 days.
Follow Brian Billick on Twitter @coachbillick.