Sept. 9 (Bloomberg) -- Geno Smith’s National Football League debut was a winning one, as the New York Jets’ rookie quarterback directed a go-ahead drive in the closing seconds of an 18-17 victory over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers that featured three lead changes in the final five minutes.
Smith guided the Jets 50 yards on five plays in the game’s final drive yesterday to set up a 48-yard field goal by Nick Folk with two seconds remaining at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, New Jersey.
“I had some ups and downs, but it’s not about me, it’s about this team, and as a team we won the game,” Smith said afterward. “Not all of them are going to be pretty.”
Smith, a second-round draft choice starting in place of the injured Mark Sanchez, completed 24 of 38 passes for 256 yards, one touchdown and one interception, while losing a fumble that led to a Buccaneers touchdown. He also added a team-high 47 yards rushing. Smith was the first player to lead the Jets in both passing and rushing yards in the same game since Ray Lucas on Dec. 5, 1999 against the New York Giants.
“I’ll tell you where he really helped us -- he ran,” Jets coach Rex Ryan said. “He made some big plays running.”
Smith began his professional career by completing a 26-yard pass to Jeremy Kerley, though the Jets’ only first quarter points came after Buccaneers quarterback Josh Freeman missed a snap in his own end zone and kicked the ball out of play for a safety. Freeman finished the game with 15 completions of 31 passes for 210 yards, with one touchdown and one interception.
The Buccaneers retook the lead 7-2 on a five-play, 44-yard drive that ended in a 17-yard touchdown pass from Freeman to Mike Williams.
Smith then led a 13-play, 55-yard drive, including a 13-yard scramble, that set up a 43-yard field goal by Folk to close the gap to 7-5.
With 6:51 remaining in the second quarter, Mason Foster sacked Smith, who fumbled the ball. Tampa Bay recovered at New York’s five-yard line and Doug Martin ran into the end zone for a touchdown that gave Tampa Bay a 14-5 lead.
Smith turned the ball over again on the next series, when Tampa Bay’s Lavonte David picked off a pass intended for Stephen Hill.
“That was completely my fault,” said Smith, who was among five of the Jets’ 2013 draft selections to make their NFL debuts yesterday. “I just put the ball a little too high.”
Ryan, whose team reached the American Football Conference championship in Sanchez’s rookie season, said his plan with Smith was “coach like crazy.”
“There’s no doubt he made a couple of mistakes,” Ryan said. “The big one is that, when you’re in the heat of battle, you’ve got to have two hands on the football.”
The Jets got the ball back when Dawan Landry intercepted Freeman’s throw to Vincent Jackson and returned it 38 yards to the Buccaneers’ 31. Smith then got sacked by Foster for a loss of 18 yards, before leading a 31-yard, six-play drive that ended in a seven-yard touchdown pass to Kellen Winslow to make the halftime score 14-12 for the Buccaneers.
“Geno’s going to be a great player,” Winslow said. “He really rose to the occasion.”
After a scoreless third quarter, Smith led the Jets on a 14-play, 65-yard drive covering 6:20 that ended in a 30-yard field goal to put New York ahead 15-14 with 5:05 remaining.
The Jets’ defense held Tampa Bay in its own territory until less than two minutes remained, before Freeman found Vincent Jackson for a 37-yard pass that set up a 37-yard field goal by Rian Lindell with 34 seconds remaining in the game.
Smith came out to the huddle and told his teammates there was plenty of time.
“I told those guys it’s never over, just give me some extra protection and we’ll find a way,” he said.
Smith threw one incomplete pass, then connected with Winslow for a 25-yard gain and spiked the ball to stop the clock with 15 seconds left. He took the next snap out of the shotgun and ran to the right, gaining 10 yards before getting hit after he went out of bounds. A 15-yard personal foul was called on David, moving the Jets to the Bucs’ 30-yard line.
Folk sent the kick through with two seconds left on the clock, and the team celebrated on the field. Smith said there’s plenty to work on before the Sept. 12 game at New England.
“As long as we don’t turn the ball over, I think we have a chance to win every single game,” Smith said. “That’s something I’ll do a better job at -- not turning the ball over, not being so careless with the ball at times. If you eliminate those plays, I think the game goes a lot smoother for us.”
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