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Geno Smith returns to MetLife Stadium in Week 4 as a Pro Bowl quarterback, something few thought would still be in the cards for him following the messy ending to his busted Jets career a few years earlier.
Smith will be back in town on Monday night with the Seahawks to face the Giants, who he also briefly played for — including the infamous Eli Manning benching game — in 2017.
Smith’s unexpected career resurrection under Pete Carroll after replacing Russell Wilson as the starting quarterback in Seattle last year — he posted a league-leading completion percentage of 69.8 and 30 touchdown passes in 17 starts — is another example of how it sometimes takes players several years to realize the potential that once made them a top prospect.
That is not to say Zach Wilson is assured of such success later in his NFL career, be it with the Jets or elsewhere, following the turmoil and growing pains he is presently enduring as QB of the NYJ.
One major difference between Smith and Wilson is that Smith was a second-round pick in the 2013 draft and Wilson was the No. 2 overall selection in 2021 after the Jaguars grabbed franchise signal caller Trevor Lawrence with the top pick.
Smith widely was considered a first-round talent throughout the draft process, but he plummeted all the way to the No. 39 overall choice to the Jets, who had passed on him at No. 9 (cornerback Dee Milliner) and No. 13 (defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson) that year.
The former West Virginia star made 29 starts during his first two seasons (11-18) with 25 touchdown passes, 34 interceptions and a passer rating of 71.5.
Smith only made one start for the Jets over the next two seasons, however. That was in part due to the broken jaw he suffered in an infamous locker-room fight over a $600 debt with teammate IK Enemkpali during training camp in August 2015.
Projected backup Ryan Fitzpatrick ended up magically leading the team to a 10-6 record that season. It marks the franchise’s most recent winning campaign, though they still fell short of a playoff berth in the fifth of what’s now 12 consecutive postseason misses.
The Jets were expected to end that drought — and possibly compete for their first Super Bowl title since 1969 —after boldly obtaining four-time MVP Aaron Rodgers from the Packers in the offseason.
Of course, that dreamy optimism lasted exactly four offensive snaps until Rodgers suffered a torn Achilles in the season opener against the Bills, pressing the 24-year-old Wilson back into duty behind center in a game the Jets actually pulled out on rookie Xavier Gipson’s punt return touchdown in overtime.
But the next two weeks didn’t go as well for the Jets or especially for Wilson. He threw three interceptions in a Week 2 blowout by the Cowboys and deservedly was booed often in posting a pitiful 17.6 QBR in Sunday’s 15-10 home loss to the Patriots.
There’s understandably not much optimism for Wilson and the Jets — who brought in journeyman Trevor Siemian this week as a reserve quarterback — to avoid falling to 1-3 on Sunday night against Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs.
“We all acknowledge he has to play better. We all acknowledge that,” Jets head coach Robert Saleh conceded Wednesday. “He acknowledges it, teammates acknowledge it, he acknowledges it himself, but the key is to have confidence in yourself. You have to.”
Obviously, Wilson was supposed to have Rodgers ahead of him as a mentor on and off the field this season, with the hope that watching and listening to the 10-time Pro Bowler for a year or two would better prepare him to resume his career as a starter.
Now you have to believe Wilson eventually will be jettisoned from the organization, just as Smith departed when his rookie contract expired in the spring of 2017.
Five years and three stops later, Smith reemerged in 2022 as a starting quarterback at 32 following Russell Wilson’s move to Denver (and look how that’s working out) and fronted the Seahawks to a playoff berth.
Alongside game-changing receivers DK Metcalf and Tyler Lockett, Smith has thrown for more than 600 total yards over the past two victories and the Seahawks have scored 37 points in each of those contests.
Older fans surely remember Jim Plunkett — a former No. 1 overall pick by the Patriots who had little success early in his career — winning two Super Bowls with the Raiders in the 1980s.
These are the examples that Wilson must lean on, even if he might have to go elsewhere for that second chance if his career doesn’t turn around dramatically with the Jets.
Today’s back page
The newest Buck stops here
The balance of power in the NBA’s Eastern Conference dramatically shifted back to the Bucks with Wednesday’s blockbuster acquisition of Damian Lillard from the Trail Blazers.
The move came as a shocker after a summer filled with the belief that Lillard ultimately would be granted his wish to be traded to the Heat — the team that upended the top-seeded Bucks in the first round and embarked on a stunning run to the NBA Finals as the No. 8 seed in the East.
Rather than playing alongside Jimmy Butler in Miami, Lillard now will team up with two-time NBA MVP and 2021 champion Giannis Antetokounmpo in a pairing that should squelch any rumors of the Greek Freak’s unhappiness with the organization’s direction in Milwaukee.
That news certainly didn’t go over well with the Knicks, who always seem to “monitor” the down-the-road availability of superstar players — even if they went through yet another summer without adding one after falling to the Heat in the second round last spring.
The 33-year-old Lillard hardly is a player in decline, averaging a career-best 32.2 points per game last season, his 11th with the Blazers. That scoring figure represents the highest in NBA history for any player starting the next season with a new team, according to ESPN.
What we’re reading
⚾ Yankees ace Gerrit Cole made his closing argument for the Cy Young award: a complete-game two-hitter. He was backed by two homers from Aaron Judge, who has 37 in 103 games.
⚾ Francisco Lindor hit three home runs in a Mets doubleheader to join the 30-30 club. After the Mets cruised in Game 1, the playoff-hunting Marlins earned a split of a twinbill they were outraged even existed.
🏀 Jrue Holiday is set to be flipped by the Blazers in the aftermath of the Lillard trade. The Post’s Mike Vaccaro explores what the Knicks need to consider about entering the bidding.
🏈 Taylor Swift is headed to MetLife Stadium on Sunday, and The Post’s Steve Serby asked the Jets what they thought. No blank space indeed.
🏒 There’s a mystery afoot at Islanders training camp.
⚾ Baseball beef! The Astros and Mariners benches cleared during a wild showdown late Wednesday night.
⚽ Lionel Messi sat out, and Inter Miami dropped the U.S. Open Cup final to Houston Dynamo. James Harden loved it.
— Jonathan Lehman
That’s a wrap
The Ryder Cup’s Roman reign
American golfers seized the Ryder Cup two years ago on U.S. soil, but they haven’t been as successful on the road, failing to win in Europe in their past six tries over three decades since hoisting the trophy in England in 1993.
They will attempt to end that drought this weekend at Marco Simone Country Club in Rome, with the first session slated for 1:35 a.m. Eastern time on Friday.
As Post golf writer Mark Cannizzaro noted earlier this week, only five of the 12 American golfers participating — the “gritty” Brian Harman, Rickie Fowler, Brooks Koepka, Max Homa and Patrick Cantlay — were alive in 1993.
Koepka, the 2023 PGA Championship champ, interestingly is the lone defector from the PGA to LIV Golf who will be participating on the 12-man U.S. squad. Former U.S. Open winner Bryson DeChambeau and other defectors have complained they weren’t added as captain picks.
The American team also includes: Sam Burns, Wyndham Clark, Collin Morikawa, Xander Schauffele, Scottie Scheffler, Jordan Spieth and Justin Thomas.