Antonio Cromartie moved quickly Wednesday — faster than he got to Brian Hartline in overtime on Sunday, actually — to vow that no Jet is alone on Revis Island, even if some fans have evacuated all hope. The marooned members of the secondary have plenty more friends than just a volleyball. They always can talk to Cro.
"The big thing is we have to make sure we communicate," said Cromartie. "As a group we have to play at a high level.
"I have to be a leader, make sure guys are on top of what they have to do."
They must form a human chain, these Jets, who have been presumed shackled to the abundant shortcomings they have demonstrated through three weeks.
Cromartie, Mike Tannenbaum's second choice after Nnamdi Asomugha to play corner opposite Revis, has to step in for the best defensive back in the NFL, if not its best defensive player, period.
Kyle Wilson, a No. 1 pick who has played mostly the nickel for three seasons, now must be at least as good as Cromartie while Ellis Lankster, released by the Bills, becomes the nickel promoted from dime. A penny, please, for the true thoughts of Rex Ryan about Isaiah Trufant, who is a 5'8" special teams player, and Joe McKnight, the once scourge of John Curtis High School's secondary, who since then hasn't even run backwards as part of his off-season workouts, let alone against an NFL-caliber receiver.
Step up or step aside. In the next 13 weeks, we will find out about Cromartie, who can look good and look bad and now probably will have to look for more help than Revis ever needed on the opposition's best receiver; Wilson, the 29th player taken in a draft who nevertheless had been playing a specialty role in Year 3; and Lankster, a seventh-rounder left on Buffalo's curb.
We also will learn more about the judgment of the men who put these players on the Jets. Talent and evaluators together form an unbroken chain around a trunk that will drop to the ocean floor of the AFC East unless a lot of players on this defense pick it up, meaning pick each other up.
"We haven't played run defense to our standards," said Ryan on Wednesday, sounding the bugle call. Assuredly, on the ground is where the Jets must begin compensating for what they will lose through the air in Revis' absence. But of course it is not nearly that simple.
Because the Jets had Revis, Ryan's defense could dominate even without a superior pass rusher, so now Muhammad Wilkerson, a 30th overall pick who had three sacks last season as a rookie, has to take it to the next level he vowed to do as this season began. Whether Wilkerson can reflects on GM Mike Tannenbaum, who took another pass rusher, Quinton Coples, 16th overall this year after whiffing on Vernon Gholston with the sixth pick in 2008.
They are all in this together, Cro, Kyle, Muhammad, Mike and Rex. Especially Rex, who built an earned reputation as a defensive mastermind in Baltimore by moving a lot of chess pieces around king Ray Lewis, a once-in-a-generation player; Ed Reed, probably one-two among defensive backfield performers in the NFL with Revis over the past five years; plus five-time Pro Bowler Terrell Suggs
Great players make great coaches, sure. But in part that's because great coaches know how to best use great players.
"What he did in his game plans in Baltimore was really phenomenal," said a one-time assistant coach for an NFC North rival. "He was one of the most difficult guys to game-plan for.
"He knew he had Suggs, who is so hard to block one-on-one, so Rex would overload an entire side and force you to slide your line to that side or else Suggs would be one-on-one.
"Or they dropped Suggs and blitzed, so now you had to deal with all these other guys coming. If not, Rex would drop guys and Suggs would be one-on-one on a tackle. The Ravens also always had a great cornerback in Chris McAlister, but because they did all the walk-around stuff and guys didn't line up at the snap and Rex gave them some freedom, he had the reputation of being a crazy blitzer.
"Yeah there's a little bit of madness to him, but also some beauty. They had stars, sure, but when they just did the fundamental stuff, they were so well-taught, their technique was so good, you couldn't budge them. I don't think he got enough credit for that."
Ryan and defensive coordinator Mike Pettine will earn some glory if they get to the playoffs, as Eric Mangini did with his first Jets team that had less talent on both sides of the ball than does this one.
That squad, which went 10-6 and lost to the Patriots in the first round, had phenomenal injury luck, which this one obviously already hasn't, plus a soft schedule. Three weeks is far too soon to judge this one. Buffalo, which looked uncompetitive against the Jets on opening day, is now 2-1 and the Steelers, who made the Jets appear terrible, are 1-2.
Santonio Holmes said Wednesday that in Revis' absence, the offense is now not so much charged with scoring as it is with "relaxing" this defense by keeping if off the field. If the Jets can get a running game going, this season — which, remind yourself, has started 2-1 even if the vibe feels more like 0-3 — doesn't have to be over. And it won't be even if the Jets don't get things turned around the next two weeks against what may turn out to be the two very best teams on the schedule in San Francisco and Houston.
Well-coached teams adjust and improve as seasons progress.
"The problem is not just the dropoff from Revis to Cromartie and from Cromartie to Wilson," said Ryan's secret admirer. "They now will have to use LaRon Landry, who really is more of a run-around linebacker type playing safety, more in coverage.
"How do they compensate? Probably by zone-blitzing more."
Joe McKnight will barely see the field. Ryan knows better than to pound round pegs into any square holes and also realizes he can rebuild a reputation that took a hit with last year's 8-8. The Jets aren't winning a Super Bowls minus Revis, but they can earn a lot of respect by still making the playoffs.