Jets have an identity on defense again

The Jets have ridden a suffocating defense during their unexpected 6-3 start this season. Their young No. 1 cornerback has announced himself as a star and has been shutting down a different stud receiver weekly. The corners have been frustrating opposing quarterbacks, and their pass rush has been taking advantage.

Combined with an at-times dominant running game, which buoys a young quarterback learning the ropes, the Jets have found a reliable route to victories.

The blueprint should sound familiar. A former Jets all-world cornerback sketched it more than a decade ago.

“That’s the DNA, to have a great defense. We won a lot of games having a great defense,” Darrelle Revis said Friday at Jets practice. “They have an identity.”

Ahead of his Ring of Honor initiation next week, Revis returned to an organization that spiraled without him — until this season. Suddenly, the Jets’ young nucleus — particularly on a defense that has given up the eighth-fewest points in the NFL — looks both dangerous and recognizable.

Jets great Darrelle Revis (inset) is high on rookie Sauce Gardner, celebrating after making an interception in the Jets’ win over the Bills.
Robert Sabo; AP

When the Jets reached back-to-back AFC Championship games following the 2009 and 2010 seasons, it was Revis who was shadowing the game’s top wideouts, from Andre Johnson to Reggie Wayne.

This year, the Jets have found his spiritual successor. Rookie Sauce Gardner has locked down receivers from Ja’Marr Chase to Tyreek Hill.

“I think the sky’s the limit for him,” said Revis, who is not as tall as the 6-foot-3 Gardner. “I love his game. … It’s a different style of play, but at the same time, he’s effective in what he can do. He and D.J. Reed are doing a great job being a dynamic duo. In this league, you actually need that, you need great cover corners.

Sauce Gardner breaks up a pass intended for Gabe Davis to help the Jets secure a win over the Bills.
Sauce Gardner breaks up a pass intended for Gabe Davis to help the Jets secure a win over the Bills.
Robert Sabo

“I think [Gardner] can take on that legacy as being a New York Jet great.”

The two have not met, but Revis called Gardner shortly after the Jets drafted him with the fourth-overall pick earlier this year. Revis advised him about taking care of his body and staying focused and told Gardner that he had “a chance to be really good.”

“It was a great feeling. He’s always been one of my favorite corners,” Gardner said Friday, as the Jets prepared to face off with the Patriots in Foxborough, Mass., on Sunday. “I actually believed everything that he was saying because he actually went through the stuff that I was about to go through.”

Revis went through just about everything with the Jets, who drafted him 14th overall in 2007. Revis was a Pro Bowler in his second season and an All-Pro in his third, becoming arguably the game’s best cornerback for a team that also was on the rise.

Those Jets squads never reached the Super Bowl, but players such as Revis and offensive linemen D’Brickashaw Ferguson and Nick Mangold (who were inducted into the Ring of Honor earlier this season) seemed to always give them a chance and an identity.

“We had the fantastic four, core four. Brick, Nick, myself and David Harris,” said Revis, who last played for the Jets in 2016 and retired after the 2017 season. “Having four strong leaders — two on the offensive side and two on the defensive side — I think that’s what helped us setting the example for other guys to come in here and play: This is how you play New York Jet football.”

Jets fans remember Revis’ Sunday exploits, but his teammates will recount his relentless work at practice. Revis remembered arguing with head coach Rex Ryan, who wanted him to sit on Wednesdays or Thursdays so he would be fresher for the games each week, and Revis rarely wanted to sit.

“I had to cover some of the greatest, Hall of Fame receivers,” said the 37-year-old, sporting a bushier beard than in his playing days. “For me, it was just being the best prepared I could be. The practice squad wide receiver had to be Randy Moss or Chad Ochocinco that week.”

“I feel like we got a similar mentality,” Gardner said. “Like we could dominate whoever is lined up in front of us.”

Revis said he is “overwhelmed” and “surprised” by his inclusion in the Jets’ Ring of Honor, and he could probably say the same about the success of the 2022-23 team. Few saw this coming.

“Makes me want to get back out there and try to play,” Revis said.

He won’t be suiting up again, but Gardner and these Jets are reminding fans of teams and legends of the past.