Jets' mantra: No matter how bad the loss, it still only counts as one
In this instance, age may be Calvin Pace's greatest asset.
In the course of his 11-year NFL career, the 33-year-old outside linebacker has suffered through crushing defeats and felt the elation of hard-fought victories. And those experiences provide Pace a certain perspective -- and, more importantly, the confidence to know that one game doesn't have to define a season.
"I don't want to date myself, but the same thing happened in 2010," he began, recalling the Jets' embarrassing 45-3 beatdown in New England.
A week after they allowed Cincinnati's Andy Dalton to look like Dan Marino, the Jets (4-4) are determined to shut down Drew Brees and the Saints' high-powered offense. How, exactly, remains unclear.
New Orleans (6-1) has the third-best passing offense (310.7) in the league and is fifth in scoring (28 points per game). The Saints' sole weakness appears to be their rushing attack, which churns out only 85.3 yards a game (25th overall) -- but their vertical game more than makes up for it.
Brees is best at spreading the ball around, but his top target is Jimmy Graham. The star receiver -- who is expected to play Sunday despite a partially torn plantar fascia -- leads all tight ends with 90 receiving yards per game and eight touchdowns.
"It's a challenge, man," Pace said. "Other than the Falcons, I don't think we're probably going to see a better group of skill guys on offense . . . If we can handle Atlanta, we should, in theory, be able to handle New Orleans."
The Jets left Atlanta with a much-needed Week 5 win. But their defense couldn't generate any type of pressure on Dalton, who threw a career-high five touchdown passes in the Bengals' 49-9 win last week.
"It was a humbling experience. A humbling experience," said rookie tackle Sheldon Richardson, who is fifth in tackles (37) among defensive linemen. "Now everybody knows that they could be beat now. So hopefully everybody got their minds right and just doing their jobs."
The reason for the defense's struggles last week was simple. "Guys were trying to do too much," said Richardson, who criticized himself for not "doing enough" to make plays. "Guys were doing a little bit more than their position; shooting gaps that weren't open. Just small stuff like that."
It's too early to tell if the butt-kicking by the Bengals will send the Jets on a free fall, but the defense says it won't be defined by last week's poor showing.
"If you play in this league long enough, you're going to have losses like that," veteran linebacker David Harris said. "Did we want to lose like that? No. But it happened. We learned from it and we're doing everything possible to make sure it doesn't happen again."
For the first time since Week 11 of the 1991 season, the Jets boast the No. 1 run defense in the NFL, according to the team's official website. But the key to a Jets victory will be the play of their secondary, which was torched last week by Marvin Jones (eight catches, 122 yards, four TDs) and A.J. Green (three catches, 115 yards).
"All of us are physically gifted to play. I think mentally if we stay sharp and recognize what they're trying to do to us, I think we'll be fine," said cornerback Darrin Walls, who twice has replaced first-round draft pick Dee Milliner in games. "We've got to do our job to give the D-line some time to get to the quarterback."
The Jets have lost nine games by at least 20 points under Rex Ryan since 2009, and only three times have they managed to win the following week. But if their 2010 season is any indication, the Jets have at least shown it's possible to recover after an embarrassing defeat. Only four current Jets defensive players (Pace, Harris, Antonio Cromartie and Kyle Wilson) were on the team when it lost to the Patriots, 45-3, in Week 13 -- and later defeated New England, 28-21, in the AFC divisional round.
"We still have seven games left to prove ourselves," Harris said. "And as one of the old guys on this team, me and Calvin, we've just got to know it is going to get better. And there's a lot of football left."