FLORHAM PARK: His season was over.
As Antonio Cromartie lay with a towel over his head on the Jets training table during last Sunday’s game against the Browns, New York’s cornerback was certain he’d just torn his ACL. He’d gone through this before, felt his knee pop before. There was only one outcome:
His return to the Jets secondary wasn’t going to last past halftime of the season opener.
“You’re thinking the worst,” Cromartie said, “And praying for the best.”
Then came the Monday morning after the game, and Cromartie got an MRI. Hours later, he got the results back. Minutes after that, jubilation set in as he realized the only thing wrong with his knee was a sprain.
“It’s a blessing. I’ve got God watching over me,” Cromartie said after Jets practice on Wednesday. “I feel good. I’m still a little sore from the impact of it, but that’s it. “
For now, Cromartie’s status for the Jets Monday night game against the Indianapolis Colts is up in the air. He hasn’t truly tested his knee since the injury; there have been no cuts, acceleration sprints or anything of that nature. He’s been taking it slow, easy even, and working to get himself at 100 percent.
The thought of potentially missing the matchup with Andrew Luck and Co. is one that's new to Cromartie. During his decade in the NFL, the four-time Pro Bowler has never missed a game due to injury, and just one game overall when former Jets coach Rex Ryan rested his starters before the playoffs.
But that doesn’t mean Cromartie won’t force himself into the lineup. He says he’s made that mistake before.
Back in 2013, Cromartie, who was dealing with an injury to his hip, elected to suit up for New York while he wasn’t 100 percent. The result wasn’t pretty, as Cromartie struggled throughout the season’s duration. That season, Cromartie allowed seven touchdowns and an average quarterback rating of 100.7, according to ProFootballFocus.com.
The touchdown mark was the second-most allowed by Cromartie in his career. The average QB rating? The worst.
“At the end of the day, you need to be smart,” Cromartie said. “You try to take a lot of pride and continue to play and not miss a game. But with me playing 10 years in this league, you’ve gotta think a little smarter with what you’re doing.
“I’ve gotta see if I’m able to practice. If I don’t feel like I’m 100 percent, if I don’t feel like I’m full speed, it wouldn’t make sense for me to (play).”
If Cromartie isn’t able to play, there’s no doubt in his mind the secondary will still have success. Aside from the fact second-year pro Marcus Williams filled in admirably when Cromartie got hurt against the Browns, intercepting a pass, Cromartie said every cornerback on the team views themselves “as a starter.”
But still, New York would prefer to have all hands on deck when the team travels to Indianapolis. After all, facing Luck isn’t exactly an easy task, even when all are healthy.
Since being selected with the top pick in the 2012 NFL Draft, Luck has established himself into one of the game’s best quarterbacks. In his 49 games played, Luck, who’s been voted the Pro Bowl each of his first three NFL seasons, has completed 58.4 percent of his passes and thrown for 13,200 yards with 88 touchdowns and just 45 interceptions. Last year, Luck completed 61.7 percent of his passes and threw for 4,761 yards with 40 and a 96.5 quarterback rating—all career highs.
Cromartie said he views Luck as one of the NFL’s “Top 5” quarterbacks, Jets head coach Todd Bowles couldn’t find any flaws in his game.
“He does everything,” Bowles said. “He’s one of those QBs that’s big, he’s got size, he can run. He can beat you with his brain. He can beat you with his feet.
“He’s just a helluva quarterback, probably one of the best in the league, easily one of the best in the league. We’ve got our work cut out for us.”
Bowles didn’t stop by just praising Luck, though. The coach said Indianapolis has playmakers all over the field – From its four receivers, to its two tight ends, and veteran running back Frank Gore.
But in the Colts season opener, the team fell to the Buffalo Bills, 27-14. Facing former Jets coach Rex Ryan, Luck was flustered by an abundance of blitzes thrown his way. The Bills used a variety of unique defensive fronts to confuse Luck, and force him into bad decisions. In defeat, Luck completed only 53 percent of his passes and threw two interceptions.
“I thought Buffalo played well,” Bowles said, “and (Luck) made some mistakes. That’s every week going into Week 1. You don’t know what’s going to happen. But we’ve got them at their house on Monday night. They’ll be a totally different team, and we’ve gotta be ready for their best.”
And the Colts at their best is why the Jets need to be at theirs. And that means having Cromartie on the field.
While later in the week Cromartie will almost certainly make a strong argument to his coach to put him on the field, Bowles said it will ultimately be his decision, and that decision will be made based on what will aid the team the most:
If Cromartie can play, he’ll play. If he can’t, he won’t.
“I told him unless I see him running, and, that’ll be my determination not his” Bowles said, “He may feel well in his mind, but I may not see it. Or, he may feel well, and he’ll look well, and then he’ll play.
“The film doesn’t lie. Practice doesn’t lie. You see what you see. If you see him limping, he’s not going to play.”
This article will also appear in Saturday's edition of The Journal Inquirer