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Saturday, Jan. 22, 2011

He's reputedly better than Oakland's Nnamdi Asomugha, Denver's Champ Bailey, Philadelphia's Asante Samuel, Green Bay's Charles Woodson and the Steelers' Ike Taylor — elite cornerbacks who are considered the best of the best.

So why won't Darrelle Revis of the New York Jets be playing his familiar role as shutdown corner against the Steelers in Sunday's AFC Championship Game at Heinz Field?

Revis, a three-time Pro Bowler in only his fourth season, late of Pitt and the pride of Aliquippa, is expected to start matched against Steelers receiver Hines Ward.

On paper, Revis vs. Ward makes sense.

Ward is the Steelers' career leader in receptions, receiving yards and touchdown catches. That's saying something, considering the company he keeps is with Lynn Swann and John Stallworth.

However, at this stage in his career, Ward isn't as big a threat in the passing game as fellow wideout Mike Wallace. Ward, 34, has become a possession receiver. In the season's first meeting won by the Jets, Revis held Ward to two catches for 34 yards.

Ward's strength as a first-rate blocker makes him a bigger factor in the run game than Wallace, who isn't as adept in that area. However, Revis' strength is shutting down the opponent's top receiver, not coming up to stop the run.

Revis should be matched against Wallace, a threat to go all the way every time he touches the ball. Wallace torched Antonio Cromartie, the Jets' other starting cornerback, for seven receptions and 102 yards in last month's 22-17 loss.

Wallace averaged 21 yards a catch this season. He accumulated 500 more yards than Ward and doubled Ward's touchdown output despite having just one more catch.

It's incomprehensible that Revis won't be staring at Wallace from across the line of scrimmage. Why isn't the league's top cover corner being assigned to stop the Steelers' top receiving threat in the biggest game of the year?

"I don't know why he didn't cover me (the first time),'' said Wallace, who was targeted 10 times in the first meeting against the Jets. "I think Cromartie's a really good player himself. I had to worry about him the whole game. It really doesn't matter. It's going to be a long day for whoever checks me.''

It will be interesting to see if Revis gets the opportunity to make Wallace eat those words. That's how reputations are made — great players achieving greatness in big games. But it doesn't appear that Revis will get the chance.

Is it because Wallace had a big game against the Jets the first time, and that Revis was coming back from a hamstring injury and didn't think he could keep up with Wallace, among the fastest players in the league• Is it because Revis is again experiencing hamstring issues (he was limited at Friday's final practice) that resulted from him missing training camp during a 35-day contract holdout?

Revis can be sensitive to what he believes is unfair criticism of his play. When New England's Randy Moss burned him for a touchdown catch in the second game of the season, Revis indicated his hamstring was bothering him.

To which Jets coach Rex Ryan replied, "Did he get beat for a touchdown• Yeah ... and he's going to get beat again for a touchdown this season no matter if he's 100 percent, 90 percent, whatever. He's a great player. They all get beat.''

Ward said injuries are an occupational hazard. If you're healthy enough to play, play. If not, don't take the field.

Will Revis be playing at full speed Sunday?

"I think so,'' Ward said. "Who's full speed (this late in the season)?''

Taylor, who routinely faces the opponents' top receiver, will be responsible for trying to stop former teammate Santonio Holmes. Taylor said it's standard operating procedure for the top corner to cover the top receiver.

"Whoever they feel is their No. 1 guy, I want to be on that guy,'' said Taylor, who held Baltimore 's Derrick Mason without a catch last week. "Regardless of who he is.''

The greater the player, the greater the challenge.

In his biggest challenge to date, Revis apparently won't receive the coveted assignment of trying to stop the Steelers' most dangerous receiver.

So what's wrong with this picture• Clearly, Revis' credentials indicate he's up for the challenge.

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