There’s a very neat – albeit unfair – narrative that’s unfurled early around the Geno Smith/EJ Mauel “rivalry.” With the prospect of seeing each other twice a year as the quarterbacks of two AFC East squads, and given the circumstances of their professional arrivals, the stories wrote themselves.
You had the genial Manuel, son of church folks, shooting up the draft board as the surprise pick of the 2013 NFL Draft when the Bills selected him 16 th. You heard the same things about Manuel – how he lit up rooms, how thoughtful and studious he was, his genuine good nature. Meanwhile, there was Geno Smith – famously slipping out of the first round amid rumors that he was aloof in team workouts – slapped with the dreaded “diva” tag. When Smith was contemplating whether or not to show up for the second round of the Draft that Friday, the inferring intensified.
If Smith doesn’t return, he’ll be confirming in the minds of many that he can’t show grit and resolve under pressure. That he’ll sink his head and slump his shoulders when the team is 14 points behind in the third quarter. That he’ll pout if he’s not the starter or if he gets benched. That he’ll complain about the use of too many running plays when he prefers to air it out.
Meanwhile, these are the type of things said about EJ: “He hasn’t really had to mature because he’s always been mature,” per Chris Beatty, an assistant coach at Wisconsin that’s known EJ since the 9th grade. EJ also cries and hugs his dad after throwing game-winning TDs. Laudatory reports ensured.
The franchises align with this narrative. Unassuming, jocular EJ is with blue-collar Buffalo, a vessel of hope for the recently tortured franchise and embattled city. Geno’s with the Jets in Gotham, the Rex Ryan-led circus that just about everyone is sick of after these past five seasons of an out-of-wack coverage/success ratio.
We can see how this is going to proceed. Every year when these two teams meet, Manuel will be propped up as the diligent, well-received QB of the little engine franchise, while Geno spends his time on the back pages of the tabloids, laboring under the burden of shedding his prima donna tag.
EJ knows exactly what he’s doing rocking that MLK stash.
You see how the good-vs.-evil theme is setting up?
Neither EJ or Geno were the most responsible components of the Jets’ win or the Bills’ loss Sunday afternoon. The bulk of those props go to New York’s defensive and offensive lines. The O-Line kept Geno from getting sacked all game and, on the other side, the D-Line sacked EJ eight times. Geno could’ve played the game in that cream sweater he rocked draft day and kept it spotless. EJ, however, spent the afternoon picking shards of turf out of his mustachio.
The two meet again in Week 11. Who knows if their teams will be in the playoff hunt or Clowney Sweepstakes, at that point? Who knows what stage of development they’ll both be at? Who knows if the easy “Geno’s got issues, EJ is a peach” narrative will have changed by then.
That’s where we’re headed, though. It’s shaping up to be the dominant post-Belichick/Brady storyline of the new AFC East.