FLORHAM PARK, New Jersey—In football, you are supposed to beat up opponents, not teammates.
Tuesday was a dark day for the New York Jets organization, as they lost their starting quarterback, Geno Smith, to a broken jaw, not due to big hit from an opposing pass rusher but one from one from their own promising pass rushers, IK Enempkpali, cut shortly after the locker-room incident.
“I think the whole thing is childish,” new head coach Todd Bowles observed. “It’s tit-for-tat, he said, she said. It’s high school stuff they could have handled better than they handled it.”
The spat allegedly stemmed from the quarterback stiffing the linebacker for a $600 airline ticket after skipping out on an appearance at his charity football camp.
“I think today, as an organization, as a team, we may have taken a step back,” said Jets right guard Willie Colon.
But did they?
You would think a team that endured a traumatic incident such as this in the morning would struggle practicing in the afternoon. This kind of scenario can suck the life out of a club in football, perhaps the ultimate team sport.
“Today we had one of our better practices,” said Jets coach Todd Bowles.
This might be harsh, but neither Tom Brady nor Aaron Rodgers received a sucker punch that sidelined him two months. A quarterback recently ranked 32nd in the league by an ESPN poll of league executives and coaches sits with the unusual football injury. And he may sit longer, Todd Bowles confirms, if Ryan Fitzpatrick performs well. It’s the NFL—not for long—where starting jobs, like the contracts, don’t come with a guarantee.
People wonder if this sucker punch ultimately divides the Jets locker room. Probably not.
Smith, a young developmental quarterback who struggled in his first two seasons, saw action way before he appeared ripe. It wasn’t his fault he struggled, but the fault of the Jets’ prior regime of head coach Rex Ryan and GM John Idzik. They threw Smith to the wolves. A major project coming out of West Virginia in 2013, Smith shouldn’t have been handed the car keys immediately.
The Jets fired Ryan and Idzik after last season, and Bowles and new GM Mike Maccagnan took over. Bowles named Geno Smith the starting quarterback in the offseason, and the Jets traded with Houston for veteran Ryan Fitzpatrick to back him up.
Smith winning the starting job without legitimate competition frustrates fans. And it perplexes a lot of players, too.
“Enemkpali just saved the Jets season with his actions,” tweeted Jets fan Mike Silva. “My vote for team MVP to date.”
While that is a little harsh, the point is the veteran Fitzpatrick clearly gives the Jets a better chance to win. And the Jets’ management needed a slap upside to stop the insanity. Unfortunately, it took a punch upside Geno’s head for it to happen.