In this corner

Revis is still the undisputed champion at his position

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By Albert R. Breer
Globe Staff / September 17, 2010

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FLORHAM PARK, N.J. — It took 159 plays through two games against Randy Moss for Darrelle Revis to prove his dominance over the Patriots star.

But it was the 160th and final snap last year that really said it all.

The Patriots had a 31-14 lead and the ball at their 45 on a meaningless third and 6 with 30 seconds left in the game. Laurence Maroney had carried on first and second down, and surely he would get it again on third down.

But Maroney didn’t get the ball. Tom Brady dropped back and lofted a pass down the left sideline trying to get the ball to Moss — who had engaged in a verbal tit-for-tat with Revis all week — and catch the star cornerback napping.

“Oh, that was crazy,’’ said Revis, shaking his head. “I think they were trying to put the nail in the coffin, trying to exploit a defense, and me as well, on that last play. I’ll always remember that.’’

The Patriots may have been trying to prove a point to Revis. Instead, they proved a couple of points about him.

First, there was the play’s result. The ball fell harmlessly to the turf, with Revis attached to Moss’s hip like a guard on a prisoner (again). It showed the dogged, unrelenting approach that makes the Jets’ most valuable player who he is.

Second, the call showed an uncommon level of frustration in the Patriots, and Moss, that was reached in trying to beat Revis and pad stats.

The Patriots aren’t alone, either. That kind of frustration was everywhere the Jets went in 2009, a season in which Revis held every receiver he was matched with — unfathomably — under 50 yards.

“Revis Island’’ is no cliché. In a league that has muzzled not just shutdown corners but the very concept of them, the 25-year-old has shown the bite to revive the genre.

Revis’s coach, Rex Ryan, was surprised by the Brady lob into the November night. His interpretation? It was the ultimate compliment.

“I think [Revis] realized how frustrated they were, that they couldn’t get anything over him during the game,’’ Ryan said. “So they figure at the end, when everyone’s going to kneel it, they’ll take a shot. That probably just shows that they couldn’t get anything on him.’’

Since last season, Revis has staged a 36-day training camp holdout, signed a new four-year deal to replace the three years remaining on his rookie deal, and needed just three days of practice to prepare for a Ravens offense that wouldn’t complete a single pass on him. And so the greatest task lies ahead: repeating his virtuoso play of 2009.

The safety is off
To understand exactly what Revis is, you have to understand exactly what’s behind him. Usually, that would be not much of anything. Mostly, Revis Island is patrolled only by the cornerback, meaning that if he gets his shoelaces tangled, the path to paydirt is paved, because there will be no safety protecting him.

“When I was championing the cause for him to be Defensive Player of the Year, he earned it,’’ Ryan said. “I’ve never seen a guy earn it more than he did.

“I mean, he allowed us to do things you just can’t do. And if he slips, it’s a touchdown. Where was that? It doesn’t even occur to us that anything like that can ever happen to him.

“He’s just that competitive. He’s got that much courage. It’s not normal.’’

The final numbers were impressive. In 11 regular-season games locked on to a single receiver — Moss (twice), Terrell Owens (twice), Andre Johnson, Marques Colston, Mike Sims-Walker, Steve Smith, Roddy White, Reggie Wayne, and Chad Ochocinco — Revis allowed 32 catches for 290 yards and two touchdowns.

The idea the Patriots pushed that Revis really wasn’t working without a net? “It was hilarious hearing that,’’ said Ryan.

The coach explained that, more often than not, the Jets simply had a single high safety patrolling the entire deep area, with man-to-man coverage underneath. If anything, the center-fielding safety (Kerry Rhodes, at the time) would be inclined to creep over to the side opposite Revis, because Revis’s side was taken care of.

“That’s the truth,’’ said safety Eric Smith. “We’re not joking around. Sometimes, if we feel it’s a good matchup for him, we’ll vacate that whole half of the field and just leave him over there to do his work.’’

How often does that happen? “Actually, pretty often,’’ said Smith.

The genesis of all this came in last year’s season opener against Houston.

In the past, Ryan followed the textbook in having a top-shelf man-to-man cornerback — placing him alone on the opponent’s second receiver and doubling the top wideout. Seeing what a tough cover Johnson would be, Ryan thought to himself, “If I’m going down, I’m going down with my big gun.’’

So Ryan put Revis on Johnson. The Texans star was a nonfactor (4 catches, 35 yards) and Houston was held to 7 points.

The next week, Revis put the clamps on Moss, and there he went. His focus never wavered and he never slipped.

“The level that he plays at every play, every quarter, whole games — you have to watch it,’’ said teammate Braylon Edwards, who faced Revis twice as a Brown. “It’s something to watch, and really appreciate.’’

Revis is quick to credit the pass rush, the coaches, the scheme, and his teammates for providing the environment in which to thrive. But he’s also prideful enough to take it personally when someone tries to diminish his feats.

“They can say whatever they want to say,’’ Revis said. “The film don’t lie. We can sit here and watch film and show you. No, there’s no safety help. I barely get any.’’

The best ever?
Ryan doesn’t hold back on the plaudits for Revis, but this one is a doozy, even for him:

“I really believe that when everything’s said and done, it’s going to be Darrelle and Deion.’’

The coach is referring to perhaps the greatest cover corner ever, and one he coached, in Deion Sanders, and saying Revis and “Prime Time’’ will one day stand as the best ever to play the position.

The day before Ryan made that comment, Revis was on a similar train of thought.

“I’m just going to say it, and say it in a humble way: I do want to be the greatest ever,’’ he said. “But I know it takes hard work. It takes a lot of hard work. And I’ve got a lot of time on my hands to do it.’’

When later apprised of his coach’s comment, for once he tensed up.

“I don’t know, man. I don’t know, because . . . I don’t know,’’ Revis stammered. “You asked me yesterday, ‘Do I want to be the best ever?’ Yeah, I do because I work hard and I try to be the best.

“But the more I thought about it after that, I’m going to take it into basketball. You know how they say Michael Jordan is the greatest ever? That’s been the steppingstone that no one’s really reached, like Michael Jordan did.

“Deion Sanders is like Jordan, and I feel like I’m Kobe [Bryant] or something, trying to get to where he’s been. I mean, Prime Time, I don’t know. I don’t think I can surpass him.’’

Jordan and Bryant and Sanders all hold special places in sports lore because of their ability to do things no one else could. Kind of like what Revis has done over the last 12 months.

“He does it play in and play out,’’ said new Jets cornerback Antonio Cromartie. “You don’t get that much consistency from a cornerback, that way every single play, the way he just focuses in and does his job, it’s outstanding.’’

And that may mark the difference between Revis and others. Last year was no contract drive. It was about being the best.

According to Ryan, when he went to Florida to try to end Revis’s holdout, the only thing Revis would talk about was winning a Super Bowl. He signed a day later.

A week after that, with just three practices logged, Revis was thrown at three times. He allowed no completions.

The standard Revis has set for himself will provide another test as he tries to exceed what he did a year ago.

But as Moss and the Patriots can attest, chances are, he won’t let his guard down.

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