FLORHAM PARK, N.J. - Antonio Cromartie has provided plenty of bulletin-board material for Patriots Week, once famously telling Tom Brady what he thought of him by using some unprintable words and other times expressing his enmity toward the Jets' AFC East rivals with some similarly colorful language.
Not this time. Not when he's playing like this. If Cromartie has some choice words for anyone, it's for himself.
The veteran cornerback, who's being counted on to be the team's top cover corner -- especially now that Darrelle Revis is gone -- admits he hasn't gotten the job done so far. Even if coach Rex Ryan contends that Cromartie is playing at a Pro Bowl level.
"I don't think I am," Cromartie said Thursday. "I think I can play a whole lot better."
What grade would Cromartie give himself? "I give myself a 'C,' " he said. "I haven't been playing up to the level that I expect myself to be at."
If there's one statistic that underscores his frustration, it's this: Cromartie has given up three passes of at least 50 yards this season. That includes a 55-yard touchdown pass from Ben Roethlisberger to Emmanuel Sanders in last Sunday's loss to the Steelers. Cromartie was fooled on the play, thinking it was going to be a run. He was beaten badly on the coverage, and Sanders rubbed it in by somersaulting into the end zone.
"That's something I've taken a lot of pride in, and that's something that can't happen on the back end of this defense," Cromartie said of the long passes he has surrendered. "I feel like I need to step up my game a lot more. It starts with critiquing myself and it starts in practice."
How many long passes should he give up in a season? "Zero," he said, adding that he has, in fact, gone through a season without giving up a pass that long.
Injuries may have something to do with it. He suffered a hip injury near the end of training camp and a hyperextended knee in practice last week.
Cromartie said he initially thought he tore his ACL when he went down in practice, but it turned out to be far less serious. He said he aggravated the injury late in the Pittsburgh game.
Even so, no excuses.
"I'm never going to involve injuries in making an excuse for my play," he said. "If I'm out on the football field, my teammates expect to get my best and I expect to give it my best."
His best can't come soon enough, especially with the Pats next. And no nasty talk about Brady this time, just respect.
"Me going against Tom Brady, a future Hall of Fame quarterback, that's something you thrive on," he said. "You've got to go out and play your best, make sure you're on your 'A' game, because you know he's going to be on his 'A' game and his young receivers are, too."
Cromartie and the secondary continually frustrated Brady in their first meeting this season, a 13-10 Jets loss in Week 2. But Brady, who has an almost entirely new set of skill-position players this season, seems to be adjusting to his new teammates. The Patriots are coming off a thrilling 30-27 comeback win over the Saints on Sunday.
"We created some things, and I thought we got to the quarterback pretty well," Cromartie said. "We gave them different looks, and his young receivers dropping deep passes can get you frustrated. But I think his young receivers are understanding what they need to do. We're going to get their best, and that's what we expect."
Cromartie said he needs to give his best, too, and he thinks he knows how: by being more physical. While watching tape, he has noticed a tendency to use finesse against opposing receivers, especially close to the line of scrimmage.
"I try to be physical with receivers, but that's something I haven't been doing," he said. "When I'm up in press coverage, I need to be more physical with receivers, getting my hands on them."
No better time than now to put the change in technique to work. It's Patriots Week, and it's time for Cromartie to make a big statement.
With his play, not his words.