The NFL knows how to create a dramatic storyline, and it created a dandy for opening day -- the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at the New York Jets, meaning the return of star cornerback Darrelle Revis.
For the Jets, Revis symbolizes good times from the past. They enjoyed a lot of success together, everything but a Super Bowl, before the ugly divorce last April. Things aren't looking so good for the Jets anymore. For the Bucs, Revis represents hope, perhaps the final piece in an expensive championship puzzle.
Rich Cimini and Pat Yasinskas, the Jets and Bucs team reporters, respectively, discuss Sunday's matchup at MetLife Stadium:
Cimini: There will be a lot of "24" jerseys in the crowd, as Revis was an enormously popular player in New York. The success-starved fan base embraced the "Revis Island" concept, convinced he was theirs forever. Forever ended when owner Woody Johnson refused to pay $16 million a year and traded him. New Yorkers know what Revis can do when healthy, but that's the question: Is his surgically repaired knee all the way back? No one has seen Revis in a game for nearly a year, so there's a natural curiosity. Will he be the Revis of old? Will he play his customary role, covering the No. 1 receiver? Do tell, Pat.
Yasinskas: Rich, the Bucs are fully convinced Revis can be what he used to be. He's had nearly a full year to rehab after surgery and there have been no setbacks. It's true the Bucs have brought him along slowly. He was limited at the start of camp and didn't appear at all in the preseason games. But the Bucs were deliberate in increasing his workload throughout the summer and it was clear all along that the goal was to have him ready for the season opener. The Bucs have high hopes for Revis and believe he'll help fix a pass defense that ranked No. 32 in the league last season. The belief is that Revis can shut down the other team's No. 1 receiver and also allow linebackers and defensive backs to blitz quarterbacks. The Bucs would have drafted a cornerback if they had stayed put at No. 13 in the draft. But they felt Revis was better than any corner they could have selected. They used their second-round pick on cornerback Johnthan Banks, who may be in the starting lineup Sunday. If he is, both the Bucs and the Jets will be starting a rookie cornerback. How has Dee Milliner been doing so far in New York?
Cimini: I'd love to tell you how he's doing, Pat, but I haven't seen a whole lot of him lately. Milliner missed the last two preseason games with a strained calf, although he told us Monday he'll definitely be ready to play. Obviously, he'll be rusty and his conditioning could be an issue as well. In his last game, nearly three weeks ago, he appeared tentative in coverage. Maybe he was concerned about the calf, I don't know, but he gave way too much cushion. Rex Ryan wants his corners to be aggressive in man-to-man coverage, and Milliner was anything but that. In fact, he received an earful from fellow corner Antonio Cromartie during the game. Obviously, the Jets think Milliner has a ton of talent or else they wouldn't have drafted him ninth overall, basically handing him a starting job even though he showed up a few days late because of his contract. But he has a lot to learn. I think he'll have problems with Mike Williams, assuming Cromartie covers Vincent Jackson. But I wonder, can the Bucs get consistent quarterback play out of Josh Freeman to exploit the Revis-less defense?
Yasinskas: Consistency is the big issue when it comes to Freeman. He got off to a great start last year and had the Bucs at 6-4. At that time, it looked like the Bucs certainly wold lock up Freeman with a long-term contract. But Freeman cooled off late last season. He had 10 interceptions over three disastrous games. That convinced the Bucs to hold off on signing him for the long term. They're letting him go into a contract year and it's a "prove it" situation, especially after the Bucs used a third-round pick on Mike Glennon. But Freeman's the starter for now and I think he's ready to become a good quarterback. He has good talent at the skill positions and needs to rely on those players instead of trying to carry the team by himself. In the past, that's when Freeman has gotten himself in trouble. Speaking of quarterbacks, how ready is Geno Smith to lead the Jets?
Cimini: First, a quick story about Freeman. The Jets' scouts actually had him graded higher than Mark Sanchez before the '09 draft, but they adjusted the grades after Sanchez's personal workout and interviews. I wonder how things would've played out if the Jets had picked Freeman. As for Smith, he's not ready, no way, but the Jets have no choice because Sanchez's throwing shoulder is banged up. Smith played less than four quarters in the preseason (69 snaps, to be exact) and he played poorly in his only extended outing -- three interceptions and a safety. He could've benefited from a few weeks on the bench, learning his craft. He has no experience in a pro-style offense. At West Virginia, he played in the "Air Raid" attack, working exclusively out of shotgun. The coaches will simplify the game plan, but he'll still be seeing a lot of stuff for the first time. He has an electric arm, but there will be growing pains.