By Ernie Palladino
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Before the Jets started playing football for real this year, Rex Ryan proclaimed his defense a sure-fire, top-five group.

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Amazing how one injury can turn an otherwise impressive unit into a bunch of also-rans.

No doubt, the straight up, shoot-from-the-hip Ryan never considered then that his shutdown cornerback Darrelle Revis would have to sit out the Pittsburgh game with what was termed a mild concussion. But now that Revis’ status is even uncertain for Week 3 against Miami, Ryan may have to reassess his thinking toward his potentially favorite group of his head-coaching era.

While he’s figuring out how to fill that gaping hole at cornerback, that is.

It all shows how losing a shutdown guy like Revis can affect the whole. Remove the Revis factor and risk turning that isle of desolation out there into a Wendy’s drive-thru. And then whole thing becomes as vulnerable as a matchstick house.

Kyle Wilson? He’s a competitor. But he’s more of a nickleback type, an inside player. Put him outside and then the problems start.

Revis’ absence is a big part of the reason the Jets were unable to get off the field on third down. While Ben Roethlisberger was using the football like some people use salt and pepper, sprinkling it around the green stuff to 10 receivers for 275 yards and a pair of touchdowns in a 27-10 win, he was also taking the Steelers to an 8-for-15 (53 percent) third-down success ratio.

Whether he was targeting Wilson or not on those particular third down plays, the fact that Roethlisberger didn’t have Revis to worry about made life just a little simpler for him.

Of course, Antonio Cromartie didn’t help matters when he overplayed Big Ben’s third-and-16 throw to Mike Wallace in the end zone that allowed the Steelers to all but ice the game at 20-10 in the third quarter. The Jets were in a blitz package. Might they have been able to play a little zone with Revis out there? Who knows. But his absence certainly didn’t help matters.

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That’s why they’re giving him $13.5 million over the remainder of his contract, because he’s worth it. And as game as Wilson might be, or as willing as Ellis Lankster may be in taking Wilson’s usual inside spot against the slot receiver on passing downs, they’re not Revis. Not by any stretch.

The worst news is that this concussion issue may not be over. Ryan would not commit to Revis for Sunday’s game against the Dolphins. He can’t. The league and its medical staff controls that, and it’s a good thing because everybody knows Revis would not consider sitting out against a division rival. Somebody has to watch out for him.

Who will watch out for the Jets’ defense is another story. Granted, Wilson is not Revis. But at this point in his career, Miami’s rookie quarterback, Ryan Tannehill, doesn’t look much like Roethlisberger, either, though he did put up 35 points in beating the Raiders.

The best case scenario here is that Revis’ cobwebs go away for good and he passes those mental acuity tests that will clear him for that trip to sunny South Florida. With Mark Sanchez struggling on offense, the Jets can ill-afford to stagger through another defensive effort.

Give Ryan credit, though. He was still maintaining his cheery optimism over that unit Monday, knowing full well that Revis eventually will return, along with injured linebacker Bryan Thomas.

Once that gets settled, Ryan said, the Jets might just take off.

“Bet against us,” Ryan said in his Monday post-mortem. “That’s all I’m saying. Bet against us, we’ll see where it ends up.

“I know where it’s going to end up.”

Only once Revis gets back.

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Will the Jets leave Miami with a victory with or without Revis? Be heard in the comments below…