FOXBOROUGH — Darrelle Revis says he has no interest in using this season with the Patriots as a chance to show the rest of the NFL, and particularly those younger cornerbacks who have tried to lay claim to his title as the best in the league at the position, that he remains king of corners.
A season largely lost to a torn ACL, and a subsequent one spent on a bad team in Tampa Bay, plus Seattle’s Richard Sherman talking his way into the national consciousness, Sherman and Cleveland’s Joe Haden getting huge new contracts, and Arizona’s Patrick Peterson waiting for his payday, all led to Revis being shoved out of the cornerback spotlight.
If any of it bothers Revis, now a member of the Patriots after being released by the Buccaneers in March — he signed a one-year deal with New England within hours of parting with Tampa Bay — he won’t say.
But friend and mentor Ty Law will certainly say it for him.
“He’s definitely out there with something to prove because of all the guys getting the big contracts, and he was down in Tampa Bay as a forgotten guy,” Law said. “He’s still thinking, ‘Wait a minute, I’m still top dog.’ And he wants to win, that’s the most important thing.”
And Revis’s former Jets teammate Damien Woody will say it for him, too.
“No question,” Woody said. “I’m sure he’s looking, seeing the coverage Sherman is getting, new contracts for Haden and [potentially] Peterson, and saying, ‘Wait a minute. What’s all this talk of this guy, that guy being better than me?’ ”
Revis gave a slight shake of his head when he was asked about feeling he has something to prove after one of the Patriots’ organized team activity practices last month.
“No, I don’t feel like I have to prove nothing to anybody. The only thing I have to prove is to my teammates, that I’m there for them and I’m there to win games and help us win,” he said. “All that other stuff, it really don’t matter. It really doesn’t. Anybody can say anything; it is what it is. I respect all those guys, I really do. I respect them all.”
When he was with the Jets, the team that traded up to take him 14th overall in 2007, Revis quickly became a Pro Bowler, and he was named All-Pro for the first time in 2009.
Rex Ryan, who took over as head coach in New York that same season, said repeatedly during their years together that Revis was the best cornerback in the NFL, and also that Revis’s 2009 performance was the best season ever produced by a corner.
Revis played in just two games in 2012, suffering a concussion late in Week 1 and then tearing his ACL in Week 3. New Jets general manager John Idzik traded Revis to Tampa Bay in April 2013.
The Buccaneers signed him to a contract that looked impressive — six years, $96 million, the richest given to a defensive back in league history — but was structured in a way that the Buccaneers could part ways with him after one season without having to pay a major financial penalty.
Revis is reluctant to talk about his standing among cornerbacks, but that doesn’t mean he’ll turn his back if someone is stepping to him: While he was still rehabbing from his torn ACL, early in 2013, he engaged in a bit of Twitter trash talk with Sherman, saying he’d never seen a man “run his mouth so much” when Sherman was dismissive of Revis while answering a tweet from a fan about Revis possibly being a better corner than he, noting that Revis hadn’t played that season.
The two traded barbs, with Sherman pointing primarily to the number of interceptions he’d racked up — he had 12 over his first two seasons (2011-12), while Revis had 19 from 2007-12 — and Revis saying he wasn’t Sherman’s competition, but a receiver such as the Falcons’ Roddy White was. The Seahawks had lost to Atlanta in the postseason that year.
Revis said at the time he “felt a certain way about somebody coming at me personally” and wanted to stand up for himself, but now believes it doesn’t matter what another player says.
As Patriots fans can attest, having witnessed the comebacks of Tom Brady, Wes Welker, and Logan Mankins from torn ACLs, the injury isn’t nearly the career death sentence it once was.
So it’s not surprising that Revis played and started all 16 games for Tampa Bay last year, though former Buccaneers GM Mark Dominik said it took until the latter part of the season for Revis to fully regain his confidence and return to his high level of play.
And yes, that level is as the best corner in the NFL, a level he’s reached with a combination of phenomenal instincts and a good deal of hard work.
“Yes, he is the best cornerback in the league,” said Woody, who played with Revis from 2008-10. “Maybe I’m biased, but what separates Revis . . . is his versatility, and being a student of the game. This guy understands his position.
“He’s meticulous with how he studies the opponent, how the opponent will attack you. You never see him out of position. That comes from really good study habits and being a hell of a practice player.
“He tried to make practice harder than the game; he was the ultimate competitor in practice. I’m not saying we had all-world receivers on the Jets, but he was [working] in practice, and when it carried over to the game, it was easy for him. It really was.”
Practicing against a quarterback of Brady’s caliber every day may make Revis even better, Woody believes. Brady, ever the perfectionist, already has said he’s tired of facing his new teammate on the field, and during OTA practices media were allowed to watch this spring, few balls were thrown Revis’s way.
“Knowing the type of competitor that Darrelle is, going against Tom Brady, for him it’s like the challenge he’s been looking for,” Woody said.
Law, who hails from the same Pennsylvania town, Aliquippa, as Revis, has long been a mentor and confidant for the younger player, and the two got to be teammates in New York for the 2008 season.
“He’s proven it time and again” that he’s the best, Law said. “The only person you can debate it with is Sherman. I’m not taking anything away from Richard Sherman, but in my eyes, Darrelle is the superior of the two. Sherman is a close second.”
Law noted Revis’s ability to play either side of the field, play inside, cover a tight end if needed, efficacy in run defense, and his willingness to tackle as reasons why Revis is tops among the game’s cornerbacks.
“If you put him on the other side of any of those cornerbacks, any offensive coordinator is going to say, ‘Our first option is to throw away from Darrelle,’ ” Law said. “I have the utmost respect for those corners, too . . . Sometimes you have a player who is special. [Houston’s] Andre Johnson, Megatron [Detroit’s Calvin Johnson] — 60 plays on those guys in man situation, I don’t see any of them capable of doing it play in and play out.”
Dominik, who spent nearly 20 years in Tampa Bay working his way up the scouting ranks to GM, spoke of Revis’s natural talent as part of what separates him.
“He has the best anticipation and ball skills I’ve ever seen. There’s no wasted movement in his game, he understands angles, he understands routes,” Dominik said. “He has great instincts and a great feel for the game. I think he’s blessed. You’re going to see his footwork. There’s no wasted movement in his motion, no false steps. He has a really good feel for what’s going to happen. It’s impressive.”
Told of Dominik’s assessment, and asked about his preternatural gifts, Revis emits a self-conscious chuckle, his smile shining through his thick beard.
“I don’t know. When I was coming out of college, getting into the NFL Combine, I guess there were some saying I had a sixth sense or something,” Revis said. “That’s what some people say. I don’t know. I just have a real feel for the game. I study formations and the route tree, so I just have a feel for the game and I just go on my anticipation and what I feel sometimes during the game.”
Law called Revis one of the most competitive people he’s ever known, and that if he gets beat, Revis goes back to the line of scrimmage and plays even more aggressively for the rest of the game.
Law was critical of the Buccaneers for using Revis in zone coverage so often last season, since he is so good in man to man, and believes while Revis will learn from Bill Belichick and that Belichick may have some fun with how he uses his new corner, when the game is on the line, Revis is going to be lined up opposite the best receiver on the field.
Woody believes “it made too much sense” for Revis to sign with the Patriots, where his abilities would be accentuated and he’d also have a chance to get to the Super Bowl.
The Patriots had Aqib Talib for a year and a half, and he was a welcome improvement at the position.
But Revis is even better, and back to his elite, pre-injury level.
Dominik, who saw Revis get better with each passing week in Tampa Bay, gave this assessment: “Darrelle is Darrelle now. I expect him to be at the top of his game.”
If that’s the case, his play will do Revis’s talking for him.
Inside Darrelle Revis’s numbers
Revis brings to New England a résumé that makes him one of the premier cornerbacks — if not the best — in the NFL.
Among his accomplishments:
• He is a five-time Pro Bowler and three-time All-Pro in seven career seasons.
• He has 21 interceptions, with three touchdowns on returns.
• He finished second (to Charles Woodson) in voting for 2009 Defensive Player of the Year. Jets coach Rex Ryan, upset that Revis didn’t win the honor, said Revis had “the best year a corner has ever had.”
Revis has been able to neutralize many of the NFL’s best receivers and quarterbacks over his career. Here’s a look at some of his notable performances:
|9/14/2008||Patriots||In Matt Cassel's first start for New England, Revis limited Randy Moss to 2 catches for 22 yards during Jets’ 19-10 loss.|
|9/28/2008||Cardinals||Revis picked off two Kurt Warner passes, including one he returned 32 yards for a touchdown in a 56-35 Jets win.|
|9/13/2009||Texans||Reigning NFL pass-catching king Andre Johnson caught just four balls for 35 yards in Jets' 24-7 Week 1 win.|
|9/20/2009||Patriots||Revis limited Moss to just 4 catches for 24 yards as the Jets held New England without a touchdown for first time in 37 games in a 16-9 win.|
|11/29/2009||Panthers||Revis returned one of his two interceptions 37 yards to give the Jets a 7-0 lead and held Steve Smith to just 1 catch for 5 yards in a 17-6 win.|
|1/9/2010||Bengals||Chad Ochocinco, who had boasted he would dominate Revis, finished a two-game series with the Jets with a combined total of 2 catches for 28 yards, with Revis and the Jets winning both matchups and moving on to the divisional playoffs.|
|11/7/2010||Lions||Calvin Johnson caught just 1 pass for 13 yards as the Jets won, 23-20, in overtime. Said Revis, "He brought the best out of me."|
|11/25/2010||Bengals||Days after Bengals wideout Terrell Owens called Revis "average," Revis limited Owens to 3 catches for 17 yards in a 26-10 Jets win. "I showed him how an average corner plays," Revis said.|
|1/8/2011||Colts||All-Pro Reggie Wayne managed just 1 catch for 1 yard matched up against Revis in a wild-card game the Jets won, 17-16.|