The Bengals were tied with the New York Jets and driving in the second quarter of the Jan. 9 wild-card playoff game in Paul Brown Stadium. Nine plays into their series, the Bengals had advanced to the Jets' 41-yard line. It was third-and-6. Carson Palmer took the shotgun snap and got foolish.
Chad Ochocinco, split right and with the NFL's best cover cornerback playing him heads up, released to get outside and flew. Not even a single move, much less a double move.
Palmer took three steps and fired a back-shoulder throw to Ochocinco that never arrived. Revis, defending the inside, rotated his entire body counterclockwise and snatched the underthrown ball. He spun once more to gather his feet and dashed 20 yards.
Joyner: Mission Impossible
Today's NFL has its own version of the impossible goal -- create a viable pass receiving habitat on Darrelle Revis Island.
Many have tried to establish a beachhead on this atoll but Revis' 3.6 yards per pass attempt allowed total this season has kept this isle uninhabited. KC Joyner
Four plays later, the Jets scored a touchdown and took a lead they never surrendered. Revis' play was pivotal -- literally and figuratively.
"When you have a choice, you're going to avoid him like the plague," ESPN analyst Trent Dilfer said. "I was shocked Carson Palmer took that shot. I'm shocked they'd even go there. That's usually a route you use to take advantage of a corner that doesn't belong because you know he can't make the play."
If offenses should know anything about playing the Jets, it's that Revis almost certainly will make the play.
More dominant pass coverage is almost unfathomable. Revis has become the NFL's preeminent lockdown cornerback, drawing comparisons to Deion Sanders and Rod Woodson and propelling the Jets' defense to the top of the charts.
Revis finished the regular season with six interceptions and a league-leading 37 passes defensed. He will be a major concern for the San Diego Chargers' prolific aerial attack Sunday in Qualcomm Stadium.
"I don't like the term 'shutdown corner' because I think that's hard to find, and it gets thrown around pretty loosely," Chargers head coach Norv Turner said, "but I think I might use that term with Revis. He's awfully impressive on tape. He just goes after it, and he plays every play like this game is meant to be played, and he is very impressive."
Revis has snuffed a conga line of great receivers this season.
*Snapped streak of 120 consecutive games with a reception
"The times I've been matched up or in that position, I'm trying not to let the big play happen," said Buffalo Bills cornerback Terrence McGee. "When you watch Revis out there, he's shutting them down. He's not even letting the little plays happen.
"As long as I've played, I've never seen somebody get matched up like that -- game in, game out -- for 16 weeks. You're probably going to have a bad game eventually because the other team gets paid, too. But he doesn't ever seem to have a bad game. It's unexplainable."
McGee is correct in that Revis' season has surpassed the standards of great cornerbacking. But we can attempt to explain how he does it. Reasons are plentiful.
Not all of Revis' physical skills are sublime. He's not a blazer, but he always seems to gobble ground when it's time to make a play.
Revis' vision is uncanny, often allowing him to keep an eye on the quarterback while in man coverage. He has the astonishing ability to flip his hips from a backpedal to a trail position in a blink. His hands are better than most defensive backs.
But athletic gifts never are enough to become elite.
He's known as one of the hardest-working players in the game. His offseason workout regimen is grueling. He intently studies film of every receiver he's about to line up against, looking for inclinations and tells -- slight posture alterations, foot placement, nervous energy -- that will tip him off to what route's coming. Not every player knows what to look for on film, but Revis' uncle, former NFL defensive lineman Sean Gilbert, taught him how to examine it.
Darrelle Revis has a knack for shutting down an opponent's top receiver.
Scouts Inc. analyst Matt Williamson recruited Revis to the University of Pittsburgh. Williamson watched every game from Revis' junior and senior prep seasons and about 15 basketball games, seeing the 5-foot-11 youngster dunk over players six inches taller.
"He never looks out of position, rarely takes false steps, very cerebral as a cover man," Williamson said. "He doesn't just rely on his speed or his size or his quickness. He seems to know what routes are coming in certain situations, down and distance.
"The typical fan thinks running routes is easy for a receiver, but to make every route look the same until they actually sell it is really tough. Darrelle really understands each player he faces tendencies and each offense's tendencies. That's a remarkable quality."
Revis most often is lauded for his man-to-man defense, but he might be more dangerous in zone coverages. Dilfer recently participated in a poll and ranked Revis behind only Antoine Winfield as the best tackling cornerback.
"He's physical," ESPN analyst and former NFL quarterback Tim Hasselbeck said. "Maybe that's the thing that stands out the most is how strong he is. When you see him make contact with guys down the field, you see him get receivers off balance."
Revis is so smooth and economical in his movements that he often gives the false impression he's not trying.
Those who know football see an extraordinary calmness. Revis knows he's good, has prepared himself and trusts his instincts. Players who appear to be hustling often are overmatched or trying to recover from being caught out of position. Revis never appears awkward or off balance.
"He makes the very difficult look incredibly easy," Dilfer said. "It's almost effortless. Many athletes, even at the top of their games, in stressful situations when things get hard, they don't trust their athleticisms and they panic. The great players in any sport, the more stressful the situations, the more ease they approach it with.
"When I see Darrelle Revis playing cover corner, I see Kobe Bryant in a one-on-one isolation matchup."
Revis was a Pro Bowler before defensive architect Rex Ryan became the Jets' head coach, but the relationship clearly has been beneficial to both men.
After all, why would opposing teams dream of throwing in Revis' direction if he's such a lockdown cornerback? He led the NFL in passes defensed. The Jets' defensive schemes made sure of it.
With a luxury like Revis essentially eliminating the other team's best receiver, the defense has all sorts of options.
"He helps the scheme more than the scheme helps him," Williamson said.
On running downs, defenses can play closer to the line of scrimmage because Revis will make sure they're not naked deep. In must-pass situations, the defense can dictate where the quarterback throws by overloading one side of the field, thereby funneling the ball to Revis' zone.
But Palmer's misguided throw on Saturday was against Revis in man-to-man coverage. So Palmer chose to do that -- for whatever reason.
"Will he get beat? Yes, I guess he can get beat," Ryan said of Revis, "but I'll take my chances. If there is one guy that I want to cover somebody, with my paycheck on it, I want it to be Darrelle Revis. Period."