Jets face tough but winless Steelers

Geno Smith celebrates after the second half of

Geno Smith celebrates after the second half of a game against the Atlanta Falcons. (Oct. 7, 2013) Photo Credit: AP

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Calvin Pace couldn't help but smile.

In a matter of weeks, the tide has turned and the bandwagon in Florham Park now carries a heavier load. The Jets, projected to be the worst team in the NFL by ESPN, now own the New York sports scene -- thanks to the Giants, who inexplicably have started the season 0-6.

"I don't know why," Pace, the veteran Jets outside linebacker, said with a playful grin.

Despite the media's often manic reactions to the Jets' 3-2 start, the mood within the locker room has remained consistent. Rex Ryan's team may be feeling good about itself after its last-second Monday night win in Atlanta, but the Jets are under no illusions about what lies ahead. They will face a Pittsburgh team that not only is craving its first victory of the season but has had two weeks to figure out how to steal one on the road.

"Everyone knows even though Pittsburgh is 0-4, this is a really good team," Pace said. "It's not like you're playing some bums."

On paper, the Steelers are a mess: Zero wins. Dead last in rushing yards per game (58.0). Their defense hasn't had a take-away since Week 17 of 2012.

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But the great equalizer may be their quarterback. Simply put, Ben Roethlisberger is a nightmare.

He's sturdy and strong at 6-5 and deceptively mobile at 241 pounds. And it'll be up to the Jets' defense to disrupt, and tackle, Big Ben at every turn.

"You have to do a tremendous job of wrapping him up," Ryan said, " . . . and hope help is coming."

"Once the play breaks down, that's where you really begin to worry about him," defensive coordinator Dennis Thurman said. "Because he can improvise, he starts to run around and move around and it basically becomes playground football."

But the Jets have a mobile quarterback of their own in Geno Smith, and the rookie is coming off the best week of his professional career.

He led the Jets on their third game-winning, late-fourth-quarter drive of the season to defeat the Falcons, 30-28 -- a performance that earned him AFC Offensive Player of the Week and Pepsi Next Rookie of the Week honors. Smith, who turned 23 on Thursday, leads the league in go-ahead drives in the fourth quarter.

"It's not too big for him," said Steelers coach Mike Tomlin, who attended Smith's pro day at West Virginia. " . . . He struck me as a guy who was very even-keeled emotionally, somewhat of a flatliner. I think it lends itself to that position because of the roller-coaster ride that people can have [and] teams can have. I just think his personality is geared towards delivering in those moments."

"That's just how I am," said Smith, who was 16-for-20 for 199 yards and three touchdowns against the Falcons. "My mom thought it was weird. I never really got [excited] on Christmas when I was a kid. That's just how I was all the time."

The Jets appreciate his poise, but they also need to know the rookie is capable of building off his breakout performance last week. Smith has thrown six touchdown passes and three interceptions in the Jets' three wins but has only one TD pass and five picks in their two losses.

Smith knows Steelers defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau -- a Hall of Famer who is 15-2 when facing rookie quarterbacks -- will lay plenty of traps for him. "They're coming off a bye week, two weeks to prepare," Smith said. "I know there are going to be some things out there I haven't seen before. I've just got to be able to handle it the best way I can. Just focus on taking care of the ball and not putting us in tough situations."

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Notes & quotes: Though listed as questionable, Antonio Cromartie is expected to play, according to an ESPN report . . . The Jets promoted linebacker Troy Davis from the practice squad to take the place of recently suspended tight end Kellen Winslow Jr.

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