FLORHAM PARK, N.J.
It wasn't so long ago that the mention of Tom Brady would send Antonio Cromartie into an obscenity-laced tirade. Remember the run-up to the 2010 AFC Championship Game, when Cromartie used a few choice -- and unprintable -- words to describe how much he detested the Patriots' quarterback?
Now, with the Jets' cornerback preparing for another meeting against Brady?
"You have to appreciate him," Cromartie said Tuesday at his locker, the same location for previous rants aimed at Brady. "The guy has won multiple Super Bowls. You have to have a respect for him."
Question: Who is this man, and what has he done with Antonio Cromartie?
Answer: It's really him. Seriously.
"I'm in a totally different place career-wise, life-wise," he said. "It's just going out and playing football. I'm having fun . . . I don't know how much longer I'll be playing, so I'm going to continue to have fun."
Cromartie has made a remarkable transformation in recent months, traced largely to his epiphany just around the time Darrelle Revis suffered a season-ending knee injury in Week 3. No longer the loose cannon whose locker room rants would often overshadow his level of play, Cromartie has taken on a more serious approach, largely because Revis' absence triggered something in him.
Cromartie realized he had to take on more of a leadership role, and admitted that his level of play leading up to this season wasn't as proficient as it should have been. It was a startling admission from a player who rarely suffers from a lack of self assurance, yet it was a moment that signaled a major turnaround. Cromartie is indeed playing his best football, and now laments that he didn't take his craft more seriously before.
"It shouldn't have taken for Revis to go down for me to be playing at a very high level," he said. "There's something I think I took for granted having Revis on the other side and not being able to play at a high level when he was here."