In a day and age where the Heisman Trophy and the NFL Most Valuable Player award have become offensive skill position prizes, you'd have to trace back 23 seasons, to Lawrence Taylor in 1986, for the last time an NFL defensive player garnered MVP honors. And with the seasons Drew Brees, Peyton Manning and Brett Favre are having, you can almost guarantee a QB is going to take home the MVP title once again.
But Jets CB Darrelle Revis has been so good this season that he deserves to be in the discussion for NFL Defensive Player of the Year. Revis, who will be matched up against Steve Smith for the first time Sunday at the Meadowlands as the 4-6 Jets and 4-6 Panthers battle, doesn't want to focus on what he's accomplished through 10 games though.
"I really don't want to get into that. Right now, we just have to focus up as a team and get some wins," he said. "We're struggling for a win right now and we need to get one and I think that's the biggest thing. It's not about how somebody individually is playing, we just all have to do our jobs and stay focused."
You don't have to worry about Revis taking care of his job. As the Jets' top corner, he leads the club with 18 PDs and two interceptions and his 51 tackles (42 solo) rank fourth on the team. His production against some of the league's top wideouts speaks for itself when you consider the 5'11", 198-pounder held Andre Johnson to four catches for 35 yards, limited Randy Moss to nine receptions and 58 yards over two games, and also wiped out Marques Colston (2-33) and Terrell Owens (3-13) along the way.
Smith is next on the docket for Revis. The 5'9", 185-pound receiver has a modest 45 catches entering Week 12 and is averaging 13.3 yards per grab. But three of Smith's four receiving TDs have come in the Panthers' last two games as he and QB Jake Delhomme seem to be getting back in sync.
The Panthers announced late Saturday that they had added Smith to their injury report as questionable for the Jets with sore ribs. His availability for the Jets will likely be announced about 90 minutes before today's 1 p.m. kickoff.
Update, 12:30 p.m.: Smith has been announced as active for today's game.
"He's fast," Revis said of Smith. "I don't know, does he run a 4.1-something? He's explosive and very smooth in his routes. It's going to be a challenge like every week."
Revis, a third-year player out of Pittsburgh selected No. 14 overall in 2007 who's started each of his first 42 pro games, is a consistent force in a fluid defensive backfield. Lito Sheppard was acquired in the off-season to provide stability at the No. 2 corner spot, but injuries have hampered him and he's started only three games. Both Dwight Lowery (ankle), who made six starts opposite Revis, and nickel corner Donald Strickland (concussion) are listed as out for this game, so you could see some more of Drew Coleman in passing situations.
There is also a big change at safety as Rex Ryan announced Wednesday that Eric Smith would take Kerry Rhodes' spot in the base defense. Sunday will mark Revis' first start as a pro without Rhodes there with him in the back end.
"It just shows you have to stay on top of your game. I'm not saying Kerry hasn't been on top of his game, but everybody knows it's business," Revis said. "The NFL stands for not for long, so you always have to make sure you are on top of your game at all times. It's about being consistent and doing what you need to do.
"I'm confident in all of our guys. Like I said a couple months ago when people were asking me about the secondary, we have backups who can start. We have somebody stepping in here and we have to move forward."
Quietly Revis has led the Jets passing defense to a No. 3 overall ranking, yielding just 182.9 yards per game. Conversely, the Panthers average 177.3 yards/contest through the air and are a run-first team with both DeAngelo Williams (181 attempts, 982 yards, 5.4 average, 7 TDs) and Jonathan Stewart (110-509-4.6-6) in the backfield. Delhomme has 14 interceptions and carries just a 66.0 passer rating, but the 11th-year vet has four TDs and just one INT in his last quartet of games.
"He's a good quarterback. He has taken them to the Super Bowl before and we know he's capable of making plays," Revis said. "If he gets red-hot, he can rack up some points for them."
In a Jets season of ups and downs, Revis has been one of the most valuable players not only on his own team but in the entire league. Even though the Jets have lost six of seven and are on the playoff periphery, his approach has never changed.
"You always have to stay positive. As being one of the leaders on this team, if you lose one, there's always the next week to come out and prove yourself again and win a game," he said. "That's what you have to instill in some of these young guys and always take the mentality that we're coming in here to work hard. Don't get lackadaisical and stay with your game plan."
The Green & White are in dire need of a victory. They've won just once since Sep. 27 and Revis knows the environment can change in a hurry if they get just one W.
"It would bring a relief, a relief. You don't want to be losing this many games right now," he said. "It's never a good atmosphere when you lose a lot of games, so I think we have to turn it around, get a win and move forward to the next one."