“What hurt me last year was I paid attention to too much detail, rather than just the detail itself,” Cromartie said. “I tried to be perfect on everything, knowing that you can’t be perfect on everything. I think this year is more so about just going out there and playing football. Not trying to be perfect. Just going out and playing football the best way I know how.”
So what changed? What made him see what he needed to do — and what was too much?
“I couldn’t even tell you,” Cromartie said. “It just clicked for me, to be honest.”
It is clicking for the defensive backfield as a unit, as well, as guys like Kyle Wilson and Ellis Lankster have taken on more responsibility and seen more time. It’s something that, despite Revis’s presence for every game of 2011, wasn’t always there.
There was, Cromartie said, a lack of trust among the defensive backs.
“I think one of the things last year that beat us is we wasn’t never on the same page on the back end, even with having Darrelle in the secondary,” Cromartie said. “I think we never communicated the right way.”
They are able to do that this year, because they have taken on a new pair of safeties. Though it might seem counterintuitive, the new players helped with communication, helped build trust.
“I think the corners realized that we were new at safety,” Pettine said. “The corners knew the system better than the safeties did. I think as a group they realized they can’t depend on the safeties, not for any other reason than they’re new in the system.
“I think the defensive backs, as a group, have really taken it upon themselves and the communication has become a lot more two-way than one-way.”
The corners are taking control. And that starts with Cromartie.
“There’s a bigger trust within our group to understand that that guy’s going to be there and understand that if we end up making a mistake that guy’s also going to protect us on the back end,” Cromartie said.
“When every guy is out there doing their job and knowing where every guy is supposed to be, it makes things a whole lot easier. And you can play a whole lot faster.”
Just what they hoped for
For just about any other team in the league, losing Revis would have been catastrophic.
And that’s not to say that it wasn’t for the Jets. Revis is a vocal leader in the locker room and perhaps the best defensive player in the league. He is a truly dominant corner in a defense that demands one.
But somehow, at exactly the right time, Cromartie found what his coaches had been seeking, started pushing himself when it mattered, started practicing at game tempo. He found the results that had been locked in a body with the size and athleticism and talent to do the things that Revis could.
The void is there. But it’s not as big as it could have been. Not nearly.
“Especially since Revis went down, he really took over that role of being that shutdown guy,” Bell said. “I think he always saw himself that way, but since Revis went down, he took it to another level.”
It was an opportunity, and Cromartie took advantage. He has become the cornerback that the Jets hoped for when they acquired him from San Diego in 2010 for a second-round pick, as the team built a secondary with an eye on countering New England.
Cromartie has three interceptions on the season, returning one for a touchdown. He had two touchdown returns last Sunday against the Colts called back by penalties, though one of the interceptions was allowed to stand.
“When you look at it, he’s probably playing better than any corner in the league right now,” Ryan said. “Obviously we knew that we had a great player in Antonio Cromartie, but now he is the guy that has to take the tough down, and he’s doing a good job for us.”
And he is making things easier on his teammates, by sharing his insights from his film, by making sure they’re communicating, by doing the nearly impossible: making the loss of Revis tolerable.
“Honestly, I’m just trying to make sure I do my job and make sure the other young guys are doing theirs,” Cromartie said. “If you call that leadership, I guess. I just think it’s part of the job.”