Darrelle Revis revenge against the Jets?
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Mark Sanchez still was a starting quarterback. Rex Ryan still was fat, still funny. The Jets still were considered a team capable of going several rounds in the playoffs. And Darrelle Revis, the best cover corner in the game, still was wearing a Jets uniform.
A lot has changed in the 350 days since Revis last played a football game, since the third game of last season, when Revis suffered a season-ending ACL injury. When he returns to MetLife Stadium Sunday with the Buccaneers to open the season against his former team, he and his new team are betting that one thing will be the same: That he still will be the same elite player he was before the injury.
"I'm very confident in the player I will be," Revis said. "I will be fine. There's always bumps in the road and you just have to keep on getting better and better and get back in that football mode, and I'll be fine."
The Buccaneers, of course, believe that Revis will be better than fine, which is the reason they were willing to make him the highest-paid defensive player in the league by handing him a six-year, $96-million contract.
Not long ago, an ACL injury often spelled the end of a player's career. Recent advances in surgery and rehabilitation, however, have led to a number of players coming back without having lost a step. Most prominently, Adrian Peterson returned to the Vikings in 2012, nine months after tearing his ACL, and just missed breaking the NFL's single-season rushing record.
The Bucs have a talented team that they would like to see reach the next level, but their pass defense held them back, allowing opponents an average of 297 yards per game. General manager Mark Dominik saw a possible opportunity way back last September when Revis was injured.
"Quite frankly, it started when he blew out his knee," Domink told the NFL Network. "I actually went into our director of player personnel Dennis Hickey's office and I said, 'That could be a reason why he could leave the Jets.' "
Why did the Jets let him go? It could be that they didn't want to give a top NFL contract to a defensive player who had suffered a major injury. There is some thought that ownership had just grown weary with dealing with Revis' camp over the years. Either way, the Jets never made him an offer before trading him.
If that has given Revis extra motivation for Sunday, the Bucs are downplaying it.
"Certainly, human condition might lend to that, but he's so darn focused and professional about his approach to this thing that if that's the case, he hasn't let on," Bucs coach Greg Schiano said when asked if Revis might be out to get some revenge. "He's certainly competitive. Anything he can help us with information-wise, he's been very forthcoming. As far as anything else, I can't say I sense that."
Antonio Cromartie, who played cornerback opposite Revis, hasn't talked to his former roommate since he was traded. He can see, however, that Revis will be motivated to show people he's still got it.
"If I'm in his shoes, I'm coming in not with a point to prove but just to show I'm 100 percent ready to go," Cromartie said.
If Revis indeed is 100 percent, it could be a long day for the Jets' receivers and rookie quarterback Geno Smith. Jeremy Kerley anticipates that he will see the same caliber player.
"He's a special player," Kerley said. "He's one of the best corners, if not the best corner in the game. I think what makes him so good is that he's a patient corner. He kind of reacts to what the receivers do. So we're going to have to do a good job of reading his technique and reacting off of that."
Ex-teammate or not, Kerley said he will have some choice words for Revis if they end up in the same part of the field. Said Kerley: "I'm going to trash-talk regardless . . . It's not bad blood. It's just football."