Calvin Pace has never played on a winner in the National Football League. The Jets' talented outside linebacker, who spent his first five seasons in Arizona with the Cardinals, will participate in his most meaningful pro game tonight in New England.
"I've played in a few — I can't say they've been as meaningful as this one," Pace said today before the Jets departed for Providence, R.I., Wednesday afternoon. "It's going to be a big game, but after the kickoff it's just another game. You can't be too up for it. Just go out there and play and let the chips fall where they may."
During Pace's stint in 'Zona, the Cards weren't nationally showcased in many primetime affairs. But Pace is often reminded of the Cardinals' 24-23 loss to the Chicago Bears on Oct. 10, 2006, when he turns on the television.
"They've got the [Coors Light] commercials about it, using Dennis Green's postgame speech," he said of the former Cardinals head coach. "You definitely don't want it to come out like that. Hopefully it will be reversed and we'll come out with the win."
Green exploded in a postgame rant after watching his team improbably blow a 23-3 fourth-quarter lead to the Bears on a memorable Monday Night. When Green finished at the podium, his "The Bears are who we they thought they were" tirade became an instant classic.
While Jets fans wouldn't mind seeing Patriots head coach Bill Belichick experience a similar meltdown, Pace will take the "W". The Cards averaged just 5.6 wins a season from 2003-05. If the Jets can defeat the Patriots Thursday, they'll move to 7-3 and into sole possession of first place in the AFC East.
"It's a great opportunity. We just have to take advantage of it," Pace said. "Seize the moment. Don't make it more than it is. If we can go out there and play like we did last week, we'll be fine."
On Sunday, the Jets went out and laid a 47-3 whupping on the Rams and Pace had a hand in the scoring. After safety Abe Elam collected a strip-sack of quarterback Marc Bulger, the 6'4", 270-pound Pace calmly picked up the loose change and went 50 yards for his first professional touchdown.
"It's something you dream about," he said. "I picked the ball up and I'm like 'Man, it's really happening,' and I kind of heard the crowd cheering. I was trying to move as fast as I could — my legs almost gave out on me. I've had a lot of people call me and it was on TV. It was my first time scoring since high school, so that was big for me."
The Jets are riding a three-game win streak and their defense has been at its pillaging best the last two weeks. In the wins over the Bills and Rams, they've combined for eight takeaways. The Pats, known not to beat themselves, have turned the ball over 12 times in nine games.
"We just have to build and go out there and try to be opportunistic," Pace said. "We don't want to force it and step outside of what we do, but we want to get guys to the ball and when you have a chance to make a play — make a play."
With the Jets having vaulted their NFL defensive ranking up to 10th, Pace interestingly said the unit turned the corner when adversity struck them in their 56-35 win over his former team.
"As bad as the second half was against Arizona, it got to a point late in the third quarter and early in the fourth where we kind of stopped the bleeding," he said of the Cards' 35-point barrage in the final 30 minutes. "The game wasn't necessarily out of hand and they still had a chance. We kind of came together and made some adjustments and stopped them. We've kept it rolling from then on."
The Jets and the Patriots know each other so well, but that doesn't mean there won't be surprises. Both teams are game-plan-specific squads, so there will be curveballs and the outcome will be determined by who adjusts better to what's thrown at them.
"Sometimes you have to play what you see. You can plan all day, but they might come out and play the wishbone. You just never know," Pace said.
But we do know a special matchup is on the horizon. The nation will be watching and the athletic Pace, who has four sacks and a team-leading three fumble recoveries, is looking forward to it.
"It's going to be a huge game," he said. "It's going to be fun to go to their house for the noise and the trash-talking. When it comes down to it, it's going to be a battle."