The Atlanta Falcons have a quarterback in Matt Ryan who has earned the nickname “Matty Ice.” But on Monday Night Football, Ryan was out-iced by an up-and-coming rookie.
New York Jets quarterback Geno Smith led his team with three touchdown passes, but it was his leadership on the final drive of the game that led to a game-winning 43-yard field goal by Nick Folk, giving the Jets a 30-28 victory.
Smith was brilliant on the final drive, completing four passes and keeping the drive alive with an eight-year scamper with just 43 seconds left on the clock.
Smith stole from a page of opposing quarterback Matt Ryan’s book. Ryan, who passed for 319 yards and two touchdowns, earned his nickname back in high school when he delivered a huge performance in a baseball game as a freshman. But the name “Matty Ice” clearly applies in his job as a quarterback as well. Ryan has led the Falcons to 16 fourth-quarter comebacks and 23 game-winning drives during his career.
But on Monday, the tables were clearly turned. Smith was brilliant in directing the Jets’ offensive attack and engineered the final drive in perfect Ryan-like style.
Smith told the Associated Press that it was moments like Monday night that get him motivated.
"It's always been a dream of mine since I was a kid to be in those situations," Smith said.
The situation Smith referred to was facing a one-point deficit with just two minutes remaining after the Falcons scored the go-ahead touchdown on a Ryan three-yard pass to Levine Toilolo.
Smith, with the calmness of a savvy veteran, completed three straight passes to get the Jets past the midfield mark with less than a minute remaining. His eight-yard scamper on second down moved the Jets closer to field-goal range, and four plays later, Folk hammered the game-winner through the uprights.
Smith had an outstanding career at the University of West Virginia, throwing for 42 touchdowns and over 4,000 yards in his senior year. Jets coach Rex Ryan drafted Smith in the second round of the 2013 NFL Draft, hoping that he could develop into the franchise quarterback after Mark Sanchez failed to live up to expectations.
It’s been a learning process thus far for Smith, who’s completed 60.3 percent of his passes for 1,289 yards, seven touchdowns and eight interceptions.
But it was the way he handled himself on Monday that leads teammates to believe in him.
“He’s taken on every challenge thrown at him,” right guard Willie Colon said. “(From) the (quarterback) competition battle to everyone (criticizing) the turnovers… Every time they question him, he steps up. He’s a fighter in my eyes.”
Cornerback Antonio Cromartie likes what he sees as well.
“He just kept his poise,” Cromartie said. “That’s something that we noticed from the beginning. He made every right throw. That’s what we needed.”
The lift from his teammates has not been lost on Smith, either.
“Everyone has complete confidence in me,” Smith said. “That’s great to have guys like that on your side with the way I played the last four weeks. They told me to go out there and let it rip. Play with no conscience.”
It was that style of play that led to the Jets’ third victory of the season. And a loss that the Falcons may well look back at as a winnable game in a season that’s quickly turned sour.
Smith will continue learning on the job, and he’ll likely continue making mistakes along the way. But his teammates have his back, and if Smith continues delivering winning drives with ice on his veins, they’ll be happy to live with the learning curve.