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Antonio Cromartie

Jets defensive back Antonio Cromartie (Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images)

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By Jeff Capellini, CBSNewYork.com

NEW YORK (CBS 2) — Please forgive Antonio Cromartie for his mouth. He just hasn’t been himself all season.

And it’s all Darrelle Revis’ fault. Well, at least that’s one theory.

Cromartie may have the second most difficult job on the Jets next to Mark Sanchez. Every week he is targeted by the opposing quarterback more than any other member of the secondary. It’s not because he is a liability or a weak link. Hardly. It’s because playing on the opposite side is arguably the best defensive player in football.

It has been well-documented that Revis changes games simply by suiting up. Many a top receiver has been rendered invisible over the last two seasons. Reggie Wayne, he of the Manning Wayne’s of Indianapolis, had exactly 1 catch for 1 yard during last weekend’s AFC wildcard playoff game. This is a man who was coming off a career-high 111-catch season and has nearly 800 in what will surely be a Hall of Fame career when all is said and done.

It was just another example of the greatness of Revis. But on the other hand — or other side as the case may be — you have Cromartie, a player the Jets traded for in the hope of creating the best cornerback tandem in the NFL.

Are they? That’s hard to say, mostly because we don’t really know how good Cromartie is. Sure, he has big-play potential, is as gifted a physical specimen as you will find and can be an effective shutdown option depending on the matchup.

But it’s impossible to truly judge Cromartie because he’s worked over more on a weekly basis than anyone. A receiver going 5-80 with a touchdown against him may look bad on paper, but in truth that same receiver may have been targeted a dozen times or more. Meanwhile, over on Revis Island opponents are trying to light signal fires.

The Jets got Cromartie because he, too, can change a game. On any given play this guy can make momentum do a 180. We just haven’t seen Cromartie the cover corner really have his coming out party with the Jets. We know all too well about his exploits in San Diego, the 10-interception season back in 2007, the dazzling runs to glory, the one-handed catches and reputation as the ultimate gambler.

We know all about Cromartie of the past. What we don’t know is if we will ever see that player with the Jets. Who knows? Sunday afternoon up in Foxboro may be the last time he wears the green and white. The Jets have hinted at a new contract for the 26-year-old, but as of right now he will be a free agent at the end of the season. And with the multi-talented Nnamdi Asomugha, the league’s other elite defensive back, suddenly available following his surprising release by the Raiders, the rumor mill has already started.

“Imagine the #Jets with @Revis24 and #Asomugha” go the tweets. Is this likely? It’s hard to say. Some beat reporters say no, while others say the Jets’ commitment to winning, at least on the financial end, knows no bounds.

The only thing that is likely is the Jets would be more inclined to extend Cromartie for several years if he truly proves his worth Sunday against Tom Brady and his arsenal of weapons.

That will be no easy task. Assume Cromartie’s primary responsibility is Deion Branch. While not as physically gifted as a Pierre Garcon, the receiver who burned Cromartie for the Colts’ only touchdown last week, Branch is just the type of savvy veteran who can give any defensive back not named Revis or Asomugha fits.

Do you trust Cromartie to cover Wes Welker, the guy who is seemingly open five to 10 yards over the line of scrimmage on every play? Again, Cro has the tools to match up with anyone. The question is will he rise to the occasion and make the types of plays that will help send the Jets back to the conference championship game?

If you’re a Jets fan you better hope so because Brady is annoyed. We all read what Cromartie had to say about the Patriots quarterback. We all saw Brady’s reaction. Hidden behind the million dollar smile and self deprecation is a killer — and all too often a Jets killer.

I really thought the Jets would defer to Rex Ryan this week in the trash-talking department. But its readily obvious the Jets are who they are. They are going to talk after wins and losses. If the season ends Sunday the Jets will immediately begin touting themselves as the favorites to win the Super Bowl next season. Even if labor strife wipes out next season the Jets will prepare each week as if there are games to play and will dream up fictitious arguments why they would win if there was a game.

Cromartie’s comments about Brady must have made the Jets’ old-school fans wince a little. The younger crowd loved it because they all believe Rex walks on water. But the fact remains Cromartie’s mouth wrote checks his abilities have yet to show they can cover, at least during his 17 games in New York. And as Jets fans know all too well there is nothing worse than trying to buy happiness, only to find out later that their beloved players didn’t have enough cash in their accounts.

I have read suggestions that Brady will go out of his way to embarrass Cromartie. I don’t believe them because Brady has always been bigger than any singular challenge. That man will try to abuse the Jets any way he can, but only within the framework of whatever is working at any particular juncture of the game. He’s not going to make this personal against Cromartie unless Cromartie allows him to. Brady will try to decimate the Jets — all of the Jets.

So the only thing left is to play the game and hope Cromartie’s mouth wasn’t run in vain. The Jets have an opportunity to silence all the naysayers, the people they have basically forced to hate them.

The world wants the Jets to lose — and lose badly — up in Foxboro. Cromartie must know something we all don’t because he must think he’s Revis.

Even if we all know he’s not.

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