FLORHAM PARK, N.J. - Quarterback Geno Smith and his offense huddled in a players-only meeting Monday in hopes of resurrecting the Jets' sinking season.
Smith stressed the gathering wasn't about airing grievances, but rather an opportunity for each individual to take ownership of his own role in a 1-3 season that appears to be slipping away.
"The meeting was for us to kind of vent to one another about some of the things that we can do better and some of the ways that we can get better as an offense,'' Smith said.
It came a day after the Jets' third straight loss, 24-17, to the Lions. All three defeats have been "very similar,'' according to Rex Ryan, who cited third-down and red-zone defense along with penalties, turnovers and red-zone inefficiency on offense as areas of weakness.
"It's not just one side of the ball that has to improve,'' Ryan said. "Both sides have to get better, obviously.''
Although Smith isn't entirely to blame for the Jets' struggles, he's taken much of the criticism. His passer rating is 75.1, fourth worst among eligible quarterbacks, ahead of only Tennessee's Jake Locker (70.8), Tampa Bay's Josh McCown (65.8) and Minnesota's Matt Cassel (65.8). On Sunday, Smith committed two turnovers, including his fifth interception. He also cursed at a MetLife Stadium heckler as he walked off the field.
To the outside world, it appears as if Smith finally has cracked under the pressure of mounting losses and backup Michael Vick lurking over his shoulder. But Ryan doesn't see Smith's expletive as a warning sign. Instead, he believes it's just general frustration.
"Fans are frustrated, too, and we've got to accept that,'' said Ryan, who was fined $75,000 in 2011 for cursing at a fan. " . . . It's something that I regret, when I did it. And I know Geno is the same way.''
Ryan said he had to learn that nasty comments come with the territory of being a public figure in the NFL. "And I hope Geno learns it faster than I did,'' he said. "It's a mistake, and I don't think it'll happen again to Geno.''
Per league rules, players can be fined for unsportsmanlike conduct toward a fan, and the amount for a first-time offender is $11,025. Smith acknowledged his behavior was "not right'' and said, "Whatever the ramifications will be, I will accept it.''
The Jets face an uphill battle, with their next game Sunday in San Diego, followed by the Broncos at home and the Patriots on the road. But Smith believes the Jets will respond.
"We're fighters,'' said Smith, who told the rest of the offense he was "disappointed'' that he has turned the ball over so much. "And I fully expect us to go out there on Sunday and give it all we got because that's what we do.''
On the same day the Bills benched their second-year quarterback, EJ Manuel, Ryan again voiced support for his beleaguered quarterback.
Asked why he's sticking with Smith as his starter, he said: " 'Cause I believe in him. I believe we're going to get it done. I believe that he's going to be one of the main reasons we get it done and we get it turned [around].''
Although Ryan said the decision to start or sit Smith is an organizational one, he did say he's "hopeful'' Smith can become a franchise quarterback because the 23-year-old "has the skill set'' to be "outstanding.''
But first, Smith must figure out how to win Sunday in San Diego. After committing 25 turnovers as a rookie, he has eight in four games. But Ryan said he doesn't believe Smith is regressing.
"Does Geno need to get better? Yeah, I'd say so,'' he said. "There's just some things that we've got to be a little sharper on. All of us, offense and defense.''