The New York Jets were 30,000 feet in the air, flying back home from Miami and already planning for their biggest fear.
How in the world are they going to replace Darrelle Revis?
Revis is likely gone for the season with a knee injury sustained against the Dolphins on Sunday, and Kyle Wilson has the tough and unenviable task of taking over for the All-Pro cornerback.
”You’re trying to enjoy the win, but at the same time, you can’t enjoy it too much, knowing that your best player has suffered a significant injury,” defensive coordinator Mike Pettine said. ”As coaches, you’re always in the world of assume the worst and hope for the best.”
Their assumptions were right as an MRI exam Monday morning revealed a torn anterior cruciate ligament in Revis’ left knee. While the Jets haven’t yet placed him on season-ending injured reserve, the general feeling is that they’ll have to try to get to the playoffs without Revis.
”That’s the world in the NFL,” Pettine said. ”There’s no sympathy cards in the mail, and every week’s a short one other than your bye. We needed to move on and that’s the approach that we took.”
Wilson, the team’s first-round pick in 2010, will start Sunday against San Francisco and the 49ers’ tough trio of wide receivers in Michael Crabtree, Mario Manningham and Randy Moss. The Jets don’t need Wilson to be great, just solid, as they’ve expected him to be since they drafted him.
”There’s nobody that can just step in and replace Darrelle Revis,” Pettine said. ”We’re not foolish enough to think we can just continue to do what we’ve been doing. But we have some pretty good players in that room as well. I think a lot of people take the knee-jerk reaction of, `Well, the sky’s falling and they lost their best player.”’
Not the Jets, though. And certainly not Wilson, who has been working toward this moment for two-plus seasons.
”That just goes into your preparation each week,” Wilson said. ”Either you’re prepared or you’re not. I looked at myself as more capable and well-prepared every week to do that and be in that position. I’m not going to look at it any different. Obviously, it’s a nice opportunity and I’m definitely going to do everything I can, but I’m not going to change anything I’ve been working on.”
Wilson has become close to Revis over the years as the two work out in the offseason together, and also have neighboring lockers. So his response was a bit curious when asked what his first reaction was when he heard of the severity of Revis’ injury.
”I was just thinking that we had work the next day and it was the usual day after a game where you correct everything from the game,” Wilson said. ”I didn’t really think too much about it.”
It’s not a slight to Revis in any way. Rather, he’s taking his promotion in stride as his buddy begins the rehab process.
”I don’t want to make too much of it,” Wilson said. ”I’m just going to continue to do the things I’ve been doing. They’ve worked well for me so far. I mean, I’m just looking to get better. It’s been the same every week.”
From all accounts, Wilson has improved steadily since coming to the Jets as a raw but talented rookie out of Boise State, where he was a huge star and big-time playmaker. Fans and media have been waiting to see some of that on a consistent basis.
Now, Wilson gets the chance to prove he was worthy of that first-round pick. He won’t make everyone forget about Revis, of course, but he could help soften the blow for Rex Ryan.
”We are super fortunate to have Antonio Cromartie who, in my opinion, is a No. 1 corner,” Ryan said. ”Clearly, that’s going to be his challenge and Kyle’s coming in to be a starting corner. We know he has that talent. But it’s across the board, where our guys have to improve. We have to take it all on ourselves. Each man has to pick it up a little bit. We’re very confident in the group that we have.”
That means the front seven has to put more pressure on opposing quarterbacks and do a better job against the run. And, the secondary has to continue to communicate well and defend the passing game with Cromartie, Wilson and backups Ellis Lankster and Isaiah Trufant.
The Jets won’t make any major changes on defense without Revis, who allowed New York to try aggressive approaches while he regularly shut down opponents’ top receivers. They also won’t expect Wilson to be as prolific in keeping guys such as Andre Johnson, Reggie Wayne and Larry Fitzgerald off the stats sheet.
”We’re not going to ask him to be Darrelle and put him out there on one side of the field all by himself without any help anywhere nearby,” Pettine said. ”We wouldn’t do that.”
The difference on the Jets’ defense will be ”more subtle” than many expect.
”We’re not going to all of the sudden change our packages and become a Tampa-2 defense and say, `We’re going to protect our corners every snap,”’ Pettine said. ”That’s not what we do.”
Wilson has already been a major contributor through three games, playing 52 (87 percent) of the team’s defensive snaps in the opener against Buffalo; 59 (92 percent) at Pittsburgh when he started for Revis, who was suffering from a concussion; and 48 (58 percent) last week at Miami.
But now, Wilson’s family from nearby Piscataway, N.J., will get to see even more of him.
”Yeah, they’re excited,” he said. ”That’s an understatement.”
When he was drafted, Wilson talked about his reputation as a tough-talking defensive back in college — a guy who didn’t mind getting into it with opposing wide receivers. He’s quiet and soft-spoken off the field, but Wilson’s competitiveness on it is still very much there.
”It’s more like an attitude thing, you know?” Wilson said. ”Say they’re throwing balls at you — it’s just like they’re just messing with you. So, when you get a chance to go back, it’s just like an attitude thing. When we’re out there, it’s a physical game and guys get after it. I don’t have a problem doing that stuff.
”If you played against me, you would know. That’s the best way I can describe it.”
NOTES: WR Stephen Hill (hamstring) and S LaRon Landry (heel) didn’t practice, although Landry’s absence was just the regular day off the Jets have been giving him each week. TE Dustin Keller (hamstring), LB Bryan Thomas (hamstring), FB John Conner (knee), WR Patrick Turner (hamstring), S Eric Smith (hip/knee) and LB Bart Scott (toe) were all limited. … Ryan said he thinks DL Quinton Coples, the team’s first-round draft pick, will see his role increase after having little impact the first three games.