When the New York Jets signed Darrelle Revis last March, they figured it would have a two-pronged effect: His return would make them better and weaken the New England Patriots. It was sound reasoning, but guess what? It hasn't weakened the Patriots.
The Patriots will play for the AFC championship on Sunday with a defense that is every bit as good as the 2014 version, which helped them to a Super Bowl championship. If the defense plays poorly and they lose to the Denver Broncos, it could fuel some chatter about how Revis' absence came back to bite them in the big game. But to this point, how can you second-guess the Patriots for letting him walk?
Bill Belichick made a value judgment last March. As much as he enjoyed coaching Revis for one season, he believed it wasn't worth a major financial commitment to bring him back at age 30. Things got messy, as the two teams engaged in a Revis tug-of-war, complete with tampering charges and counter charges. The Jets, with their chests puffed out, walked away with the prize, enjoying their trophy cornerback.
Ten months later, it's fair to ask: Did Belichick pull a fast one?
Consider: With Revis at cornerback in 2014, the Patriots allowed 313 points (eighth in the rankings), 3,837 passing yards (17th) and 5,506 yards (13th).
Without him in 2015, they allowed 315 points (10th), 3,852 passing yards (17th) and 5,430 total yards (ninth).
As you can see, the numbers are eerily similar. They Patriots remained steady and they did it without a $16 million cornerback salary on their books. How? We asked NFL Nation Patriots reporter Mike Reiss to provide insight:
"Revis helped transform their defense in 2014, and was everything they could have hoped for and more. So while they’ve transitioned nicely in 2015, that doesn’t diminish what Revis accomplished here. As for how the Patriots have maintained their defensive success without Revis, the answer is clear-cut and can be summed up in two words: Malcolm. Butler.
"The Patriots inserted the Super Bowl hero into Revis’ role at left cornerback from the first day of training camp and he’s been there since. Butler has arguably been the Patriots’ most consistent and reliable defender this season, as he played 1,082 of 1,095 defensive snaps on the season. The only times he came off the field were in games that were decided late in the fourth quarter, or in the goal-line package.
"There were several questions about Butler entering the season, and if he was capable of being a No. 1 corner, and he answered them by earning a Pro Bowl berth. Many wondered if the Patriots would rely less on man coverage, but that hasn’t been the case, either. So really, any analysis of how the Patriots have filled the Revis void starts and ends with Butler. That probably doesn’t surprise Revis, who thought extremely highly of Butler during his time here.”
Funny thing is, the Jets actually surrendered more passing yardage (3,763) with Revis than they did in 2014 (3,746) with a patchwork group of cornerbacks. But passing yardage is one of the most deceiving stats in football. Their points allowed went down (401 to 314) and their yards-per-pass-attempt also declined (6.4 to 5.9), and Revis was one of the reasons why.
Revis made an impact off the field as well, giving the Jets a marketable player. He was good for business, and they paid dearly to have that kind of commodity ($39 million guaranteed). But the Jets are at home, doing the TV talk-show circuit, and the Patriots still are playing. If they reach the Super Bowl, they'll get the last laugh.