By Dan Snapp, Patriots Daily Columnist
Zen riddle: If a tree falls on “Revis Island”, does it make a sound?
Answer: Of course. The safety heard it.
It’s a dumb debate that never should have reared its ugly head in the first place. Everybody knows the truth: Darrelle Revis is an exceptionally talented cornerback, arguably the best in the game. And like every other cornerback in the game, he sometimes plays zone, and he sometimes get double coverage help from his safeties. He is, like every other cornerback in the league, not an island.
There’s no shame in admitting that, and by no means does it diminish his own abilities, which the Patriots respected enough to target Revis a mere four times (2 completions for 77 yards) in 37 pass plays Sunday. Yet the island myth persists, thanks to Rex Ryan, Revis’s acolytes in the media, and Revis himself, who loved the moniker so much he trademarked it.
But the problem for Revis this week comes care of Wes Welker’s 73-yard pass play right after halftime. Revis was opposite Welker, and when Tom Brady’s play fake drew safety Eric Smith up, Welker split the two defenders for the long completion. Revis apologists were quick to disavow him of the blame.
“See, Darrelle Revis is gonna let him go,” said Phil Simms right after the play, “Because he says ‘I’ve got deep safety help, I don’t have to worry.’”
“On the first play of the third quarter, when Tom Brady hit Welker for 73 yards down the middle,” wrote Peter King, “It was unclear who was in primary coverage — Revis or safety Eric Smith.”
“Darrelle Revis all but made Wes Welker disappear,” wrote Ron Borges, “But the one time he left him in the hands of safety Eric Smith Welker roasted him like beef tips on the grill.”
“To be clear,” Albert Breer tweeted, “My view of Revis/Welker play: Revis had deep 3rd, passed Welker off to Smith, who wasn’t there, after biting on play fake.”
What was more gratifying for Patriots fans was what Simms said moments before the play: “They can match up with their greatest asset, which is Wes Welker. Of course they’re doing it with Darelle Revis most of the time. Not every team has a guy like number 24 where they say, ‘You go out and cover him and we’ll take care of the rest.’” So an island is an island, except when it’s an archipelago.
Revis, Ryan and Bill Belichick all suggested it was a miscommunication.
“(Welker) looked like he was running across the field,” explained Revis, “Then he got us with kind of a double move and went up the field.”
“It kind of looked like one of those, ‘I got him, you take hims,’“ said Ryan.
“I don’t know whether Revis was supposed to stay with him or whether the safety is supposed to take that inside release and grab him,” said Bill Belichick on WEEI. “Somehow they got a little miscommunication when Smith stepped up on the play fake.”
But Smith said it was quarters coverage that became double coverage once the tight end blocked:
Before the snap, Smith said his responsibility was tight end Rob Gronkowski, who was in the Patriots backfield split off to the right side.
“We were in quarters coverage and when my tight end blocked, Revis and I would have been doubling Welker low and high and we basically didn’t have either one.
“It wasn’t a communication thing because we made the communication before the snap.”
So it could be a pass-off from Revis to Smith, and Smith screwed up. Or it could be a communication failure and both players are at fault. Or it could be double coverage, and both players were at fault. Regardless of what they were in, I’m just wondering whatever happened to Revis Island?
There’s a strange phenomenon that occurs whenever a great athlete’s legend eclipses his accomplishments. It’s a product of the media hype machine, in which no feat goes un-exaggerated, and it creates a cult of personality surrounding the player that the player himself can never hope to meet. Darrelle Revis has now joined this pantheon of hyperboletes.
When the Chicago Bulls defeated the Utah Jazz in the 1998 NBA Finals, Michael Jordan made two great plays at the end of the clinching game: he stole the ball at one end of the court and made the winning basket at the other end. But what gets lost is what happened prior to the shot, when he pushed off on Bryon Russell to free himself. Worse, it’s been whitewashed as Jordan faking out Russell on the dribble. The most the Wikipedia entry on the topic will offer is that Jordan was “possibly pushing off on Russell.” Possibly?
Why weren’t Jordan’s feats at the end of that game – which were legitimately great – great enough that people didn’t have to go making up things that he didn’t achieve? And if you don’t think there’s a whitewashing, compare the NBA Finals Memories version of the play with a more complete one. See something missing?
Brett Favre is the NFL crown prince of this phenomenon. Anything he achieved was bloated as legendary or classic within minutes of a game’s conclusion. Any apocryphal Favre folk tales – like saying he didn’t know what dime coverage was, or carrying a penny in his uniform during SB XXXI – was accepted as gospel. Any failures, like the numerous campaign-killing playoff interceptions, were swept under the rug because “He’s like a kid out there” and “He plays the game the way it’s supposed to be played.” Any personal indiscretions, such as his bout with vicodin, were either downplayed or re-purposed to show the personal strength Favre exhibited to overcome the problem. And whenever a personal note could be introduced, such as his wife’s struggle with cancer or his father dying the day before the Packers played the Raiders, it got exploited to further Favre’s glory. There’s no doubt Favre played a great game that night, but is he truly the only player in league history to ever play a game right after a parent died, and play well?
Again, there’s no denying Favre was a great player. Just never as great as legend suggests.
The Patriots played Revis appropriately. He’s a great player, much, much better than his secondary teammates, and so they avoided him. Welker still caught 5 balls for 124 yards. Deion Branch still had 7 receptions for 74 yards and a touchdown. Aaron Hernandez still nabbed 5 balls for 56 yards. And Brady still completed 73% of his throws for 321 yards.
After all, why even bother passing in Revis’ direction when you’ve got “Where’d He Go?” Cromartie on the opposite side? On the touchdown, Branch left Cromartie alone long enough to seed the end zone, if not the female population of Foxboro.
Revis is Ty Law with a better press agent. Like Law, Revis is an elite cornerback. And like Law, Revis gets away with defensive holding all the time. Watch him covering Welker. More times than not, he’s got his hands on him past the five-yard allowable area.
And like when Lebron James or Kobe Bryant commit fouls, Revis’s own indiscretions go conveniently overlooked, thanks in great part to Ryan’s Pat Riley-esque working of the refs. Ryan somehow implants the seed into their brains – “Revis is so amazing that any contact you see has to be incidental” – and that simple belief takes hold Inception-like to become the reality.
If only Bill Belichick knew back in the day that all he had to do was repeat the mantra that Ty Law was the best defensive player in the league, and suddenly Law would be immune to all the Polian-dictated league pass interference mandates. Somehow, I doubt Belichick could have pulled it off the same way Ryan does so effortlessly.
Carrying such a label actually does a lot for Revis’s legacy. It’s what assists him getting voted in as a Pro Bowl starter every year, even years when he has zero interceptions. And it will help him come Hall of Fame discussion, because again, people are likely to better remember the legend than the reality. But when he fails, and his speed leaves him, and when he finally starts getting called for all the holding penalties (like Law finally did), the label will feel like an anchor around his neck.
Back in 2009, the Jets defeated the Patriots in their first meeting, with Randy Moss being held to four catches for 24 yards. When asked about Revis shutting him down, Moss responded that Revis had help. A scout confirmed Moss’s claim, stating that out of 77 offensive plays, the Jets were in true double coverage on Moss on seven, and “had a safety lingering over the top in some sort of zone” for much of the game. Even the video of Revis’s interception in that game (recently shown again in the Belichick Football Life documentary) showed double coverage on Moss. Still, in a press conference before the teams’ second meeting that year, Revis chafed at the suggestion he had help.
“I was in man-to-man coverage,” he said. “Everyone saw the game, everybody knows I was in man coverage, that was the case. He’s supposed to say that because [that day] wasn’t his day, he got shut out and was frustrated about it, which is cool.”
And this is how we know there’s no Revis Island: An island never cries. And a rock never has coverage over the top.