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Antonio Cromartie thankful knee injury wasn't more serious

New York Jets defensive back Antonio Cromartie (31)

New York Jets defensive back Antonio Cromartie (31) looks on during practice at the training facility in Florham Park, N.J., on Sunday, Aug. 16, 2015. Credit: Andrew Theodorakis

FLORHAM PARK, N.J. -- Antonio Cromartie strode easily into the Jets locker room and engaged in a verbal parry with Nick Mangold.

Why did so many people want to talk to him, asked Mangold, indicating the growing throng of reporters.

"I got hurt Sunday, remember?" answered the cornerback, grinning.

"I don't recall this," Mangold said. "Did they bring out a cart?"

Yes, they brought out a cart. And the image of Cromartie, towel over his head, being driven off the field at MetLife Stadium, had Cromartie and Jets Nation fearing the worst -- a season-ending ACL injury, a big contract gone bust, and a halted reunion with Darrelle Revis in the Jets' secondary.

But if anything can be taken from Cromartie's bemused reaction Wednesday, it's this: Considering what could have been, a simple knee sprain is a relief and "a blessing," he said. So much so that there's even a slim chance the 31-year-old could play Monday night in Indianapolis against the Colts.

"It feels good," Cromartie said after practice, when he stretched with the team but did nothing else. "I feel strong. It's still a little sore, just from the impact of it, but that's about it . . . I'm thankful. I thank God for this opportunity, to not even have anything torn and to not have any ligament damage, nothing like that. I felt something pop, but, you know, God willing, nothing did pop, so I'm grateful and honored for that."

Cromartie said he doesn't know when he'll be ready but did not rule out Monday's game.

"We've got to see if I get a chance to practice," he said. "If I don't feel I'm 100 percent at full speed, then it wouldn't make sense to . . . If you guys see me at practice, then you know something is going well."

Coach Todd Bowles was more cautious -- especially considering Cromartie, who's missed only one game in his career, played through a hip injury in 2013. Cromartie is still week to week, he said.

"I told him, unless I see him running," he can't play, Bowles said. "And then it'll be my determination and not his. He may feel well in his mind and I may not see it, or he may feel well, he may look well, he may play, so we'll say later this week . . . The film doesn't lie. Practice doesn't lie. You see what you see. If he's limping, he's not playing."

Cromartie injured his left knee in the second quarter of the 31-10 win over the Browns and said Wednesday that initially it "felt the same way as when I tore my ACL the first time." But an MRI Monday revealed only a sprain.

"You think of the worst and you get a better outcome," he said. "That's a blessing."

Despite his optimism, Cromartie said maturity -- and his confidence in defensive backs Marcus Williams and Buster Skrine, both of whom replaced him Sunday -- won't make him force the issue. In 2013, Cromartie reinjured the hip he hurt in 2008 but was determined to grit it out. In retrospect, he said, he should have sat out a few weeks.

"You take a lot of pride in" not missing a game, he said. "But at the end of the day, you want to be smart, too. I think I'm learning my lesson from 2013 . . . You've got to think a little smarter [about] what you're doing and let other guys go out and perform, go out and do what they're supposed to do."

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