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Calvin Pace sees turnovers as rookie constant for Sanchez, Smith

In this Associated Press composite, Jets quarterbacks Geno

In this Associated Press composite, Jets quarterbacks Geno Smith, left, and Mark Sanchez, right, look on during a game against the New England Patriots. (Sept. 12, 2013) Credit: AP

FLORHAM PARK, N.J. - Calvin Pace can't help but feel deja vu.

Only four years ago, the Jets' outside linebacker was in this very same spot: riding the emotional waves that come with having a rookie quarterback leading the way.

Most of the current Jets are too young to remember the team's bumpy playoff run in 2009 with Mark Sanchez at the helm. But despite his 20 regular-season interceptions, the Jets advanced to the AFC Championship Game.

Fast forward to 2013, and familiar refrains such as "interceptions can't happen" are being echoed by another rookie, Geno Smith. And the Jets find themselves at a familiar crossroads: desperately trying to make the postseason despite a turnover-prone quarterback.

When asked if he sees similarities between this season and Sanchez's first year, Pace said, "Unfortunately, yes. I guess it's to be expected when you have a guy and it's his first year doing it at this level."

Asked about Smith on Wednesday, Ravens linebacker Terrell Suggs laid out the biggest issue affecting the Jets. "He's definitely a quarterback with the potential to either win the game for them or give it away," Suggs told Baltimore reporters.

Smith, however, sees no parallels between his rookie campaign and the Jets' 2009 season.

"I'm not Mark," said Smith, who had 16 interceptions and four fumbles in his first 10 games, compared with Sanchez's 16 picks and three fumbles.

"I don't think it's fair to compare his season to mine. It's two different seasons, two different guys, two different players, two different styles, two different systems. I know you guys want to compare every single thing, but it doesn't make a difference."

As in the 2009 season, this team's strength is its defense. The unit is first in the NFL against the run, allowing 73.2 yards per game. But the deep pass has been its main problem, Rex Ryan said. Nevertheless, the coach expressed optimism about his secondary.

"When we fix our Achilles heel, which has been the deep ball against us, I think we'll move into what we all expect and what I expect certainly -- having this defense where it should be," he said.

The Jets (5-5) need a win Sunday in Baltimore to keep their grip on the final AFC wild-card spot. (They're tied with the Dolphins and a game ahead of the Titans, Ravens, Raiders, Chargers, Browns and Steelers.) But don't expect their defense to shoulder the load consistently, as it did for Sanchez in their 2009 playoff race. Unlike Sanchez, Smith isn't on a team loaded with talented veterans.

"That's two totally different teams in my opinion," Pace said. "Both defenses are good, but there were a lot more veteran guys versus this year -- it's a lot younger. It was different, two different scenarios."

For the Jets to have a legitimate shot of reaching the postseason, Smith, who took all of the first-team reps in practice Wednesday, has to drastically improve his game. But Ryan is confident he can handle it.

"I think the young man's resilient," he said. "We just have to understand that, hey, it's about the next play and focus that way."

That's exactly what Smith is trying to do. "The best thing for me to do is just wipe it out of my mind, just play with a clean slate," he said.

And that's all his teammates want to hear. The Jets don't need Smith to be perfect, but the week-to-week inconsistency just won't cut it.

"I don't care about yards or what-not. It's just tough to win games when you're committing turnovers," Pace said. "He'll bounce back. If you look at our record this season and how things have gone, he doesn't do well one week, he comes back and has a pretty good game the next week. So I believe in him."

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