Rookie QB Showdown: Geno Smith and EJ Manuel take the AFC East

Posted by Katie Peverada

On Sunday, the New York Jets beat the Buffalo Bills by a score of 27-20. To an outsider, this game appeared like any other: two teams struggling to find their way, battling to find a convincing victory. Since 2000, the Jets are 17-10 in matchups against the Bills. Despite the loss, the Bills actually still lead the all-time series 55-51, a close overall series that clearly needs no added pressure. Going into this Week 3 matchup, though, there was arguably more riding on it than in years past.
For the first time in the history of the AFC East rivalry, two rookie quarterbacks faced off: Buffalo's EJ Manuel and New York's Geno Smith. The Bills took Manuel in the first round of this year's draft, a surprise to many, and Smith fell to the Jets in the second round. Due to veteran injuries both quarterbacks found themselves behind center in Week 1. So not only did this matchup determine bragging rights until the teams meet again in Week 11, but it also determined, for the time being, which team made the better choice in the draft.
Both quarterbacks entered the matchup 1-1.
In a close Week 1 loss to New England, Manuel completed 18 of 27 passes for 150 yards. Most importantly, he took care of the ball, never throwing an interception or fumbling the ball on one of his rushing attempts (3 for 23 yards). In Week 2 against Carolina, Manuel made some mistakes. He finished 27 of 39 (69.23% completion percentage) for 296 yards and one touchdown pass. With 1:14 remaining in the third quarter of a tie game, Manuel lost a fumble which resulted in a Carolina field goal. On the next drive he threw an interception which resulted in another field goal. Two Manuel turnovers resulted in a six-point lead for the Panthers. Manuel, though, showed poise in engineering a game-winning drive, getting the ball back with 1:38 left on the clock and, with no timeouts, hitting Stevie Johnson with six seconds left.
Geno Smith came out of Week 1 looking like a rookie who, with some work, could be successful for years to come. He completed 63.16% of his passes, throwing for 256 yards and one touchdown in a close 18-17 victory over Tampa Bay; however, during this game he also threw an interception and fumbled the ball on his own 11 yard line which resulted in a Tampa touchdown. Smith's Week 2 performance certainly led some to believe he just wasn't ready to start in the NFL. Smith's passing line was less than desirable: 15 of 15 (42.86%) and 214 yards and 3 interceptions all in the fourth quarter with his team down by 3.
Going into the game, Manuel had the edge, thanks in part to some more conservative play calling by the Bills. Manuel's passer rating was 95.9 and Smith's was 55.2. However, Smith overcame his mistakes to edge Manuel in round one. Smith threw two interceptions, but more importantly he threw for two touchdowns on 331 yards and rushed for another touchdown. Manuel didn't turn the ball over, but his 45.24% completion percentage left something to be desired.
Smith gave his receivers a chance to make plays, but Manuel struggled with his accuracy all day.
Smith overcame his team's mistakes -- a franchise-record 20 penalties -- and his own, following up one of his interceptions with a touchdown pass on the next Jets' possession.
Smith was able to take control of the game when it was tied 20-20, hitting Santonio Holmes for a 69-yard touchdown pass with 9:23 to play.
Manuel didn't play horribly, he just didn't step up when the Bills need him to.
Round one, Smith.
Interestingly enough, EJ Manuel and Geno Smith are the only two rookie quarterbacks getting substantial playing time this year, so this matchup was even indicative of who the best rookie quarterback is -- or will be. So far, neither quarterback has stepped up. Manuel has one interception to Smith's six and their quarterback ratings are nearly identical (Manuel 47.43, Smith 48.0). But Smith leads in the category where it counts, as his Jets have two wins, but the Bills only have one.
Much like their first matchup, the outcome of their individual and franchise battles will be determined by who can take advantage of the opportunities. It doesn't matter that Manuel is arguably playing better than Smith. In Week 3, it was Smith who played better when required.

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