FOXBOROUGH, Mass. - Dee Milliner insisted he was fine with playing spectator.
But the absence of the Jets' ninth overall pick was noticeable on such a big stage.
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"This young man is going to be a tremendous player, there's no doubt," Rex Ryan said, explaining his decision to bench Milliner at certain times in the second half in favor of Darrin Walls and Kyle Wilson.
"But I told him, 'Dee, I want you to sit on the sideline and I want you to watch. Sometimes when you do that, it's the best thing for you,' '' Ryan added. "So we replaced him with Kyle and Walls, and that's what we did. I'm trying to win a game so I'm going to put who I think gives us the best chance to win. He's going to be a great player, but at that time I went with the veteran."
Milliner was picked apart by Tom Brady throughout much of the first half. And, unfortunately for the Jets, the rookie corner's best play of the night -- a strip on a catch by Julian Edelman that resulted in a fumble recovery by the Jets -- was overturned after replay review.
"I was fine with it," Milliner -- the first cornerback taken in this year's draft and a former star defensive back at Alabama -- said of being benched.
"[Rex] felt the need to make that decision. I made a couple of mistakes on a couple of calls. I got benched before in college for sort of the same thing."
Veteran cornerback Antonio Cromartie said Milliner handled the benching like "a pro."
"It was a coach's decision," Cromartie said. "I think the biggest thing for him is, when we come back to work, he has to come back ready to work . . . He made sure guys knew what was going on and tried to communicate with guys, and that's what you ask for."
Though the Jets preach "competition at every position," it was a foregone conclusion that Milliner would slide into the starting lineup on opening day. But after a training camp curtailed by offseason surgery and a contract impasse, the rookie often has struggled in coverage.
"If you're out there performing in the National Football League, there is a reasonable expectation that you can go out and play and get your job done," defensive coordinator Dennis Thurman said last week. "It's not about waiting. If you're a starter and/or a backup, everybody has to be prepared to go out and do their job.
"So if you understand that, and the quicker you understand that, the better success you'll have in this league. To me, it's not about waiting. It's about going out and getting your job done. If you understand it, which I feel like our coaching staff has done a good job of preparing our football team, then we have to go out and play."