For the New York Jets, it was another loss in a forgettable 2013 season that would end with an 8-8 record. They were in the process of being pummeled, 37-14, by the Buffalo Bills, who would go on to an even more forgettable, 6-10 finish.
With 12:55 remaining in the fourth quarter at Ralph Wilson Stadium and the Bills holding a 34-7 lead, Matt Simms got the call to replace Geno Smith and handle the thankless duty of finishing out the game at quarterback for the Jets.
But for Simms, the opportunity was anything but forgettable. As a seldom-used backup, he cherished the chance to simply get on the field and show what he could do. What he did on that November day was complete four of six passes for 60 yards, including a 13-yard touchdown to tight end Jeff Cumberland. It was the first, and only, scoring throw of Simms’ NFL career.
“I was just extremely happy to go into the game and the score was what it was, but when you’re just dying to get out there and get experience, I play every down like it’s the Super Bowl,” he said Wednesday. “As the backup quarterback with the Jets, I prepared as if I was a starter every week, and my teammates from the Jets know that about me. They know I’m ready to play at a moment’s notice, and I felt like I held my own.”
Simms was speaking with reporters near the scene of that performance. He had just finished his first practice with his new team, the Bills, during the first of their two OTA workouts this week on the field next to the ADPRO Sports Training Facility. Last Friday, the Bills claimed him off waivers to replace Jeff Tuel after Simms had requested his release from the Jets one day earlier.
Simms, 26, knew he had reached the end of the line with the Jets after they used a fourth-round draft pick last month on Bryce Petty and signed an undrafted free agent quarterback to an already crowded position. Simms’ time in the NFL has been spent on the fringes of the depth chart since the Jets signed him as an undrafted free agent from Tennessee in 2012.
It could very well remain that way with the Bills. Although Rex Ryan praised Simms for having a “big arm,” he made it clear Wednesday that holdover EJ Manuel and two other newcomers, Matt Cassel and Tyrod Taylor, are still the main competitors for the starting job.
“It is what it is right now,” Ryan said. “Three guys are going to be working at it; they’re splitting the reps. But don’t kid yourself. Matt will get opportunities. But is he going to get as many as the top three guys? Probably not. But one thing about Matt, I know he’ll take advantage of the opportunities he gets and I’m not saying he can’t make this team.”
Simms is encouraged by the fact that one of the first calls he received after his release from the Jets was from Ryan, the head coach who brought him to New York in the first place. Simms didn’t have that sort of support from Ryan’s successor, Todd Bowles, or the rest of the Jets’ new coaching staff.
“Really, it’s being in a place where I feel welcomed, and a place where I feel the coaches want to see me grow and continue to do well,” Simms said of Buffalo. “So even though I’m playing for a different New York team, it still feels like home to me.”
With the Bills, he is reunited with multiple coaches who were in his corner with the Jets. One of his strongest supporters was, and still is, quarterbacks coach David Lee.
“He is one of the few coaches that has seen the potential in me,” Simms said of Lee. “And every time that I was given an opportunity with the Jets, I took it and ran with it and continued to grow and show people that I do have more of a ceiling to offer.
“He really did push for me to get on the field, and I’ll never forget that. For that, he’ll always have my respect.”
Simms had a shaky start to Wednesday’s practice, but so did the other quarterbacks. He quickly showed improvement as he became more familiar with what he is doing and delivered some impressive throws that showed good velocity and accuracy.
The coaches have given him some leeway in getting up to speed with a playbook he has had much less time to study than Manuel, Cassel, and Taylor.
“He’s got some ability,” Ryan said. “Obviously, he’s got the bloodlines” as the son of former New York Giants star quarterback and current CBS NFL analyst Phil Simms and the brother to another former NFL QB, Chris Simms. “He’s smart. Any time you can add to the competition of your football team, then you go out and do it.”