Coming off what could be a defining effort in his young career, the New York Jets' Geno Smith hopes to take the next step in his development by putting up consecutive strong performances.
Facing a defense that hasn't had a takeaway, Smith might be up to the task against the winless Pittsburgh Steelers, but he won't have his top pass-catcher available after the suspension of tight end Kellen Winslow.
The Jets look to continue their surprising start and remain undefeated at home Sunday when they try to extend Pittsburgh's worst start in 45 years.
Smith helped New York (3-2) notch its best start since 2010 on Monday night, completing 16 of 20 passes for 199 yards and a career-best three touchdowns in a dramatic 30-28 victory in Atlanta. After the Falcons went ahead with 1:54 to play, Smith connected on four straight passes and added an 8-yard run to set up Nick Folk's game-winning field goal on the final play.
The rookie was tied for the NFL lead with 11 turnovers, including eight interceptions, but didn't have one Monday and completed a season-best 80.0 percent of his passes despite being sacked four times.
"It was a tremendous game for him without question," coach Rex Ryan said.
Winslow's only reception was a 1-yard TD catch, and he leads the Jets with 17 receptions. He was suspended for four games Friday for violating the league's policy on performance enhancing substances.
Smith and the Jets have followed each of their previous two wins with a loss. He's completed 64.4 percent of his attempts with six touchdowns and three interceptions in three victories, compared to 55.1 percent with one score and five picks in two losses. However, both defeats came on the road, and New York has gone 2-0 at home.
With former starter Mark Sanchez out of the picture following season-ending shoulder surgery, Smith appears to be the future of a franchise that has posted back-to-back wins only once in its last 24 games.
"I got a memo from the league, and they said we can win two games in a row," Ryan joked. "I think that's going to be what I talk to our team about."
The Steelers (0-4) are just looking for one win following their bye week, off to their worst start since opening 0-6 in 1968. They'll have a different look defensively, with defensive end Cameron Heyward starting while rookie Vince Williams lines up alongside Lawrence Timmons at inside linebacker.
Despite being 10th in total defense with 321.8 yards allowed per game, Pittsburgh is the only team in the league yet to create a turnover. The Steelers' minus-11 turnover differential is second-worst only to the New York Giants and their four sacks are the NFL's fewest.
"I like the attitude, demeanor and approach to work that the guys have taken," coach Mike Tomlin said. "That's just part of the equation. Obviously, putting it together and producing victory is the most significant part of the equation."
After missing the first three games with a foot injury, rookie Le'Veon Bell hopes to keep giving Pittsburgh's sluggish running game a lift. He finished with 57 yards and two touchdowns on 16 carries in his debut, a 34-27 loss to Minnesota in London on Sept. 29, and his workload figures to increase against the Jets.
Bell is likely to have at least one and perhaps two new faces in front of him.
With struggling Mike Adams heading to the bench, Kelvin Beachum and newly acquired Levi Brown are expected to see action at left tackle. Guard Ramon Foster remains bothered by a strained pectoral muscle and his status is uncertain. If Foster can't go, Brown will likely start at left tackle, with the versatile Beachum replacing Foster.
They'll try to provide better protection for Ben Roethlisberger, who was sacked five times by the Vikings and has been dropped 15 times on the season. That's tied for fourth-most in the NFL despite Pittsburgh having played one fewer game than most teams.
Roethlisberger has thrown for 789 yards and three touchdowns in the last two games but has six turnovers in that span.
He connected on 24 of 31 attempts for 275 yards and two scores without an interception in a 27-10 victory over the Jets on Sept. 16, 2012, in the teams' last matchup.
He'll face a New York defense ranked second in the league, allowing 299.0 yards per game. The Jets, though, suffered a big loss Monday when outside linebacker Antwan Barnes went down with a season-ending knee injury.
New York could also be without cornerback Antonio Cromartie due to a knee injury.
This is New York's first home meeting with the Steelers since a 19-16 victory in 2007.