As the patience among New York Jets fans wears thin, two things have remained consistent - the team's overall inconsistency and the erratic play of Geno Smith.
'We know our fans deserve better, and we certainly are going to play better," coach Rex Ryan said.
There also have been calls to bench Smith, but Ryan plans to stick with starting his rookie quarterback - at least through Sunday - as the Jets visit the struggling Baltimore Ravens.
New York (5-5) is the first team since the AFL-NFL merger in 1970 to alternate wins and losses through the first 10 games, seemingly going from contender to pretender week by week.
After stunning New England 30-27 in overtime Oct. 20, the Jets were blown out 49-9 by Cincinnati the following week. They bounced back with a surprising 26-20 victory over New Orleans on Nov. 3 before being routed 37-14 by last-place Buffalo last Sunday.
"Obviously, we know we have to play better. That's not hard to figure out," Ryan said.
It's also not tough to discern that Smith, who tossed three interceptions against the Bills, needs to get better. He's thrown one touchdown and eight picks over the last five games, and he completed 38.1 percent of his passes over the last two before giving way to backup Matt Simms - who went 4 for 6 for 60 yards and a touchdown last week - in each contest.
Smith's 16 interceptions are one fewer than Eli Manning's league-worst total and his 20 turnovers are the most in the NFL, but he contends he's still progressing.
"I don't think statistics tell every single thing, every part of the story,' Smith said. 'I obviously don't want my stats to look like that and I don't want to play like that. But I've gotten better. I've become a smarter player."
He's also not surprised people are calling for his starting job.
'I think every player in the NFL, everyone's job is on the line, every single person," Smith said. "That's day to day, no one's job is 100 percent secured."
Ryan emphatically backed Smith this week and doesn't plan to make a change until at least after facing the Ravens.
'I've watched the tape. I put myself through it again and I think, without question, Geno's going to start this game," Ryan said. 'I think Geno has a chance to be a good quarterback. We have to get him dialed in better."
Despite all of its struggles, New York still finds itself in better position for a playoff berth than the defending Super Bowl champion Ravens, with whom Ryan spent 1999-2008 before leaving for the Jets.
During that time he coached safety Ed Reed, who left the Ravens in the offseason to sign with Houston before being waived and signing with New York last week. Reed was given a warm welcome when he returned to Baltimore with the Texans on Sept. 22, and he'll get another look at his struggling former team.
The Ravens (4-6) have lost four of five after falling to Chicago 23-20 in overtime of a game that was delayed more than two hours because of severe weather. It marked their fourth loss by three points or fewer and their seventh straight contest that was decided by no more than six.
"In the end, it comes down to winning a tight game and doing the things you have to do to win a tight game," coach John Harbaugh said. "That's what we have to continue to work on doing a better job of because we haven't done a good enough job in close games."
Part of that falls on quarterback Joe Flacco, who hasn't lived up to the six-year, $120 million contract he signed after last year's Super Bowl run. He ranks 26th with a 75.3 passer rating, and his 13 interceptions are the most he's thrown in his career with six games still remaining.
Flacco finished 17 of 31 for 162 yards, a touchdown and two picks last week, including one returned for a score.
"We all wish we could play better, and that starts with me," Flacco said. "Up to this point, no, I haven't and we haven't played the way we want to - or should.
"It's annoying. I'm a guy that does not like to throw interceptions. Believe me, I don't like the fact that when you look at what we've done, that I've thrown (13 interceptions). That's tough."
Baltimore hasn't scored more than 20 points in its last five games and ranks 30th in total offense with 308.5 yards per game. It also has a minus-5 turnover margin that is 23rd in the league.
The Ravens may look to get the ground game going again after rushing for a season-best 174 yards against Chicago. Ray Rice entered with 289 yards through eight games, but he ran for 131 and a touchdown.
New York ranks eighth with an average of 129.5 yards on the ground, as Chris Ivory followed his 139-yard performance against New Orleans by rushing for 98 and a touchdown last week.
The Jets have lost seven straight meetings with the Ravens, including both under Ryan.
The Associated Press News Service
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