Calvin Pace's play has been talked up by Rex Ryan and defensive coordinator Mike Pettine lately, with both saying they believe he is having the best season in Ryan's three years as coach.

Pace is tied with fellow linebacker Aaron Maybin for the team's sack lead with three, and Pace's 36 combined tackles rank fourth. In his eyes, the biggest reason for his fast start is simple: He hasn't been forced to sit out the first quarter of the season as he did the previous two years.

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In 2009, Pace was suspended for violating the league's policy on performance-enhancing substances. A year ago, he broke his foot in preseason. Still, he's reluctant to say he's playing at a higher level than he did the past two seasons.

"I don't know if it's the best," Pace said Tuesday. "It just seems that way since I'm starting out [with everyone] . . . It's OK. I always think I can do better, but it never hurts when your head coach and your defensive coordinator think you're doing well. So I'll take it."

Even though Ryan has said Pace wasn't totally healed last season and that the injury nagged him all year, Pace often downplays that. But he said he's feeling much better now than he did then, and it's helped return his peace of mind, leading to better play.

"It makes all the difference in the world when you're able to just play and not have to worry about injuries," Pace said. "Like I said before, just being able to start the season off has helped me, instead of having to play catch-up when everybody is kind of getting into their form and I'm just now getting started.

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"So just being on the field itself has helped me."