Mike Wallace felt good about the Steelers receiving a compliment from New York Jets coach Rex Ryan. The more he thought about it, though, he changed his mind.
Many of his teammates agreed with him.
Ryan, who as coach with the Baltimore Ravens for 10 seasons played the Steelers twice a year, said in a conference call Wednesday that he has seen players suffer from the "Pittsburgh flu" when facing the Steelers.
"All of a sudden a guy won't play in the game, saying 'Ah, I'm just not right,' " Ryan said.
Wallace wasn't sure.
"I don't really feel good about it," Wallace said. "I just feel like we have to go out and execute our game plan. I think those guys are going to be ready to go. They have a lot on the line. I don't think nobody needs to tell them that."
The Jets have lost two consecutive games in ugly fashion: a 45-3 disaster at the New England Patriots and a 10-6 downer at home against the Miami Dolphins. The Jets are battling the second-place team in the AFC West, either the Kansas City Chiefs or San Diego Chargers, as well as the Ravens and Indianapolis Colts for a wild-card playoff spot.
"I don't know if I totally buy into it," defensive tackle Chris Hoke said. "Sometimes you get that AFC East talking, they try to butter you up a little bit, they butter you up for a beat down. That's kind of like the mentality up there. They're a good football team and we're expecting them to come in here and play good football. We're not expecting them to lay down at all."
Cornerback William Gay wasn't sure what Ryan was referencing.
"I don't know what he's talking about," Gay said. "I guess that's something that he observed."
When asked what that type of compliment meant to him, defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau remained focused on his players.
"Nothing," he said. "It's all going to come down to how we play. We're grateful for any compliment we receive if that's what that is. We try not to be dis-focused by anything anywhere and just try to do a good job on Sunday."
Cornerback Ike Taylor also kept his focus internal: "I don't really look into that. I just play football."
Ryan's words did not resonate with linebacker LaMarr Woodley, but he said the game's setting will make it plenty challenging for the Jets.
"It's always a tough place to play," he said. "You're dealing with the weather. It's going to be cold outside, you know the type of team that Pittsburgh is going to be. An aggressive-type team that's going to play hard for 60 minutes."
Jets quarterback Mark Sanchez has thrown four interceptions and no touchdown passes in the past two games and the Jets have not scored an offensive touchdown since Thanksgiving. In their four losses this season the Jets have not scored a touchdown.
"We got to make sure that we've got ourselves ready to go and try to stop the run and make Mark Sanchez win this football game," Hoke said.
The Jets' running game has been successful this season, averaging 144 yards per game on the ground, but the Jets will miss starting right tackle Damien Woody this week because of arthroscopic knee surgery he had Wednesday. Still, their offense will pose threats to the Steelers.
"It isn't like you can say, well, if you stop this guy you can stop the Jets because they have two or three options they can go to," LeBeau said.
The Steelers continue to lead the NFL in run defense and allow 60.1 yards per game, thanks in part, LeBeau said, to health on the defensive line despite the loss of Aaron Smith for most of the season and Brett Keisel for five games.
"We've missed Brett a few games but we've got capable guys to go in and play well and a lot of the core starters are in there every week," LeBeau said. "That keeps us cohesive."
A big part of that defense, linebacker James Harrison, missed practice Thursday because of an illness. He was back Friday, though, ready to try to afflict the Jets with a different type of sickness.
Bill Brink: email@example.com or 412-263-1158.