"You're only as good as your last game," Jets safety Abram Elam said Wednesday.
After racking up 10 tackles and forcing a takeaway in the Jets' 34-13 thrashing of the Titans on Sunday, "Big Play Abe" is awfully good at the moment. He's started the past four games and has become a defensive dynamo.
There was the 92-yard interception return for a touchdown at Buffalo, his first career strip-sack against the Rams, which resulted in a Calvin Pace score, then a strip of Titans rookie runner Chris Johnson, which led to a Brett Favre scoring pass.
"I'm just trying to take advantage of my opportunities," said the soft-spoken Elam. "I'm going out, practicing hard and playing hard. Preparation is key."
Elam, whose brother, Donald, was murdered last May and has lost three siblings to gunfire since 1987, was grateful on this Thanksgiving. On Thursday, he got the chance to spend some quality time with his 7-year-old son, Kaiir. They shared a meal in Paterson, N.J., at the house of Lorenzo Crawford, a friend of Elam's from their playing days at Notre Dame.
"I'm thankful for a lot. I've been blessed to have family and great people surrounding me. God has definitely been ahead in my life because without him I don't think I would be where I am today," he said. "I wake up every day and thank the Lord for giving me another day as an opportunity to go out and do something I love."
When the Jets met as a team Wednesday morning, head coach Eric Mangini named Elam the defensive player of the week for his outstanding performance against Tennessee.
"I was happy for him, I really was," said fellow safety Kerry Rhodes. "He's played well these last couple of weeks and he's got overshadowed. This week Coach acknowledged him and it was a good thing for us and it was a good thing for a guy who's been through a lot."
After starting the season in a reserve role, Elam has stepped up after being called into duty following Eric Smith's concussion. The 6'0", 207-pounder, a 27-year-old in his third pro season, has responded with the best playing stretch of his career.
"He's playing great," said lockdown corner Darrelle Revis. "You see him every week making plays — fumbles, interceptions for returns. It's good to have a guy like that who's a playmaker."
The Jets don't have to worry about success going to Elam's head. He is steady and realizes that things can change in a hurry.
"In the NFL, it only takes one play," he said. "You have to be on point each and every down because you're playing against great players. They're scheming to take advantage of any mishap you have."
The Sunday spotlight will be on Elam and the Jets' secondary. Even though the Denver Broncos don't have a record that matches the Titans, they pass for 273 yards per outing and are more dangerous through the air. Whereas Elam, best known for his ability in the box, knew the Jets' last game could have been played in a telephone booth, this weekend's matchup is far different.
"Denver is a very explosive offense. They're third in the league in passing yardage. They have a great young quarterback in [Jay] Cutler, who has a very strong arm, Brandon Marshall is near the top of the league in receptions, so it's a great challenge," he said. "Being a defensive back, this is one you want to look forward to because you want to play against the best and you want to continue to prove yourself week in and week out."
For the season, Elam has totaled 31 tackles (including three for losses), two forced fumbles, three passes defensed and the memorable interception and sack, plus eight special teams tackles. The role player's contributions haven't gone unnoticed.
"He works the same way since the day he arrived here," Mangini said of Elam. "When he gets these opportunities, he's taken advantage of them and that is what you really look for."