Eleven days ago, the New York Jets decided to stop talking about Darrelle Revis' holdout. Basically, they hit the mute button. But when they're on the field without their All-Pro cornerback, the volume is cranked up.
Midway through the preseason, the first-team defense has allowed only 10 points in six possessions against starting quarterbacks Eli Manning and Matt Moore. And that total is grossly deceiving because the touchdown, by the Manning-led New York Giants, came on a 1-yard drive after a Mark Sanchez interception.
The Jets are making a loud statement that, yes, they can survive without Revis. The question is, should anybody believe it?
"As time has gone on, we realize he's not going to be here," cornerback Dwight Lowery said after the Jets' 9-3 victory Saturday night over the Carolina Panthers. "Obviously, he's going to be a great addition if he were to step in the door one day, but I think we kind of put it on our shoulders."
Revis has missed three weeks of camp and, from all indications, the two sides still aren't close to a new contract. But anybody who believes the defense will collapse without him wasn't paying attention last season, when Rex Ryan installed a new system and whipped the unit into the league's top-ranked defense.
Ryan is such a good tactician that he could walk into a YMCA, pick out 11 guys in their 20s and turn them into a respectable defense -- or at least that's the perception he has created.
Ah, but there's a difference between good and special, and the chances of being special -- or "historic," as some players have predicted -- drops dramatically without Revis.
The preseason can be like makeup: It can cover a lot of blemishes. As a result, it can create a false sense of security. Yes, the Jets' starters have allowed only 63 yards on 28 plays (including 51 on a broken play by the Giants), but don't forget that the Giants and Panthers played without their No. 1 receiver -- both named Steve Smith.
Another factor: Teams don't game-plan in the preseason. As one NFC personnel director said over the weekend, "If I'm playing the Jets, and they don't have Revis, I'm playing four wide [receivers] and going after their third and fourth corners."
The Baltimore Ravens, whom the Jets face in the season opener, can play that style now that they have Anquan Boldin. The Jets' next opponent, the New England Patriots, play four receivers in their sleep.
Currently, the Jets are using Lowery, Drew Coleman and Marquice Cole as the third, fourth and fifth corners, behind starters Antonio Cromartie and rookie Kyle Wilson. Lowery, Coleman and Cole were exposed by the Giants' backups, but they responded nicely against the Panthers. Lowery broke up two passes and Coleman made the victory-clinching interception in the final minute.
"I really like the way the second group responded to the challenge we gave them," Ryan said.
Ryan is smart enough to know it's not the same without Revis, whom he has called the best cornerback to walk the earth (or words close to that effect). Ryan and defensive coordinator Mike Pettine can make it uncomfortable for quarterbacks with their myriad of blitz packages, but the risk/reward needle moves closer to "risk" without Revis locking down half the field.