Much like the quarterback position, elite cornerbacks are hard to come by. There are only a handful of great corners in the league, including Richard Sherman, Patrick Peterson, Aquib Talib and, of course, Darelle Revis. A common theme with those players are that their teams all had double digit wins, meaning a great corner is essential to being successful in the NFL.
The Patriots secondary has been less than spectacular ever since the days of Ty Law and Lawyer Milloy have come to an end. Belichick has tried to sneak by with a less-than-stellar group of cornerbacks and safeties, and if Super Bowls are your goal, he has been unsuccessful. It wasn't until Bill decided to spend the money for a horse, instead of ponies, that they took home another ring.
To put into perspective how influential Darelle Revis was, let's take a look at the guy playing across from him in a Patriots uniform, Brandon Browner. After his four game suspension, Browner came into New England and lived up to his reputation as a hard hitting, brutal cornerback. The Patriots finally had a top ranked defense, and more importantly, a secondary that made quarterbacks think twice about their passes.
With Revis across the field from him, Browner had a very successful season with the patriots, however, the success would not last. Along with Revis, the Patriots let Browner go and he would end up playing in New Orleans with a god awful excuse for a defense. Without Revis to make him better, Browner's numbers plummeted, and according to Pro Football Focus, Browner ranked dead last among all corners in the league.
Looking at the numbers, it's not difficult to say that Revis made everyone around him better. Looking at the season that Malcolm Butler had, it's not crazy to think that the Patriots would have a top 3 defense if Butler were playing opposite Revis. Butler has been a pleasant surprise this season, and probably learned most of what he knows from Revis, but there's no doubt he'd be even better with 24 on the field with him.
So, would the Patriots still have one game to play if Revis was still batting down passes in the backfield? The easy answer would be yes because he's one of the best players in the league at his position. However, even with Revis, Belichick is still drop-kicking against the Eagles, still playing at 50% in Miami, and ultimately the Pats are still playing in Denver for the AFC Championship.
Although Manning had a decent game, the secondary was far down the list of reasons the Patriots lost. Owen Daniels caught both Denver touchdowns, with Jamie Collins (linebacker) covering both times. Although it sounds easy in hindsight to say Revis would have covered Daniels, but it obviously wasn't the game plan to put a corner on Denver's tight end.
As I said before, it's easy to say Revis puts them in the Super Bowl because of his legacy, but cornerback play was not the reason this team lost in Denver. Maybe he makes a great play that changes the entire feel of the game, but that's just playing the "what if" game, which solves nothing. I think Patriots fans would all agree that they would have liked to see Revis wearing a Patriots jersey this season, no matter the cost.
By Matt Watts