FOXBOROUGH — Cornerback Logan Ryan turned to Darrelle Revis as the two got dressed in the Patriots locker room after their 51-23 win over the Bears and asked him a question.
“How many catches did you give up today?” Ryan asked.
“Zero,” Revis replied. “Ze . . . ro.”
Sunday’s blowout win was the personification of exactly what the Patriots expected when they signed Revis and Brandon Browner in the offseason to get bigger and more physical in the secondary. The duo matched up well with the Bears’ stable of tall receivers — Brandon Marshall, Alshon Jeffery, and Martellus Bennett all stand over 6 feet 3 inches — and essentially shut them down until the game was well out of hand in the fourth quarter.
Their coverage was so tight that Jay Cutler had to stand in the pocket for an extra second, allowing the Patriots’ pass rush — without Chandler Jones — enough time to sack Cutler three times and force a fumble, which Rob Ninkovich returned for a touchdown. Cutler threw for 227 yards and three touchdowns, but he only had 66 yards at halftime as the Patriots raced out to a 38-7 lead.
“That’s good team defense,” Ninkovich said. “It all works together.”
Revis Island wasn’t needed on Sunday. After playing almost strictly man-to-man coverage in wins over the Bengals, Bills, and Jets, the Patriots switched back to zone coverage for most of Sunday’s game, with Revis sticking to the left side and Browner on the right. The game plan was simple: Jam the receivers at the line of scrimmage, knock them off their routes, take away the deep ball, and make Cutler beat them with 12-play drives. Obviously, he didn’t.
“Sometimes we mixed it up in man coverage, but the coaches draw up the best schemes for us as a defense,” Revis said. “We tried to get Jay Cutler confused a little bit, by just playing more of a staggered coverage, and we did.”
It was a terrific end of an interesting week for the Patriots’ two new cornerbacks. For Revis, the week started off on the wrong foot when coach Bill Belichick sent him home on Tuesday for showing up late to practice. Revis, to his credit, apologized to Belichick later in the day, returned to practice Wednesday, put the incident behind him, and had a great week of practice, culminating in Sunday’s zero-catch-allowed performance.
“That’s just a testament to his professionalism,” cornerback Kyle Arrington said. “It’s water under the bridge. Our sole focus was about Chicago, and nothing else.”
“He has the same professionalism every week. There’s just no difference in him,” safety Devin McCourty added. “I think he’s a great guy for the younger corners to look at, and really everyone on the defense.”
And while Revis hasn’t pitched a shutout every week, there’s no question he has made a huge impact on the defense this year.
Gone are the days of the Patriots having a leaky secondary and giving up big plays. A pass defense that has been ranked 30th, 31st, 29th, and 18th the past four years is currently No. 2 in the NFL at 210.9 yards per game. And after allowing eight, nine, and eight passes of more than 40 yards the last three seasons, the Patriots are the only team in the league that hasn’t allowed one yet this year.
Ryan, Arrington, McCourty, and Alfonzo Dennard deserve a lot of the credit, too.
“I feel like we have the best secondary that I’ve been around,” said Revis, now in his eighth season. “Guys are interchangeable so much. I call us hybrid guys, we can play so many positions back there in the secondary, and some of the stats speak for itself as well.”
Browner, meanwhile, began the week with questions about his fitness and conditioning after looking gassed last Thursday night against the Jets in his first game of the season.
He, too, answered those questions against the Bears.
“I did some extra running after practice,” Browner said. “I didn’t get tired none out there.”
While Revis was excellent Sunday, Browner’s play was a little more mixed. There was a lot of good, like the pass he batted away from Bennett on third and 6 in the first quarter. He also got busted for two more penalties, an illegal contact and a pass interference that was declined, to give him four in two weeks.
Bennett, who had six catches for 95 yards and a spectacular catch over Browner (after the game was well out of reach), initially wasn’t too impressed with Browner.
“I thought they did a good job playing coverage, breaking up the balls when they had a chance, but I didn’t see nothing special about their physicality,” Bennett said. “Browner can’t match up with me. He pass interference’d me what, three times? Come on.”
But the more Bennett talked about his matchup, the more he began to appreciate Browner’s game.
“Most corners can’t stay with me, so he did a helluva job right there,” Bennett said. “He’s more physical than most corners. Overall he did a good job. It shows a lot of respect because they didn’t put linebackers or really try to put safeties on me. They put corners to stay true to us, so I respect those guys.”
Browner knows he needs to work on finding the balance between being physical and not getting penalties. But he’s not going to completely change his game, either. Take away Browner’s physicality and you’re taking away his edge.
“I’m not going to change my game. New England knew what they got when they got me,” he said. “I’ll try to work on it though, because the penalties will cost you.”
The Patriots will certainly be OK with Browner getting a little physical next Sunday against the Broncos. They’ll need his size to match up with Demaryius Thomas or tight end Julius Thomas, who dominated the Patriots in the AFC Championship Game last year. And they’ll need Revis to help lock down the Broncos’ passing game.
The Patriots have a shorthanded defense without Jones and Jerod Mayo, but with Revis and Browner in the secondary, they’re carrying some swagger into next week’s showdown.
“We’re a confident team. We definitely are,” Revis said. “Our record speaks to it, and we’re going to continue to play confident, because that’s the type of mentality we have as a team.”
Ben Volin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @BenVolin