Darrelle Revis looked straight ahead and spotted the reporter standing behind his right shoulder.
“I can see him right now without looking at him,” New England’s star cornerback said, smiling at writers and cameras at his locker. “It’s a God-given talent.”
Baltimore wide receiver Steve Smith will try to evade that amazing vision — forward, backward or sideways — when the Ravens visit the Patriots in a divisional playoff game Saturday.
But if Revis sees receivers, he’s among the best at keeping them from catching passes.
“He’s a great corner,” Smith said. “I don’t think you get a one-year deal for, I think, $10 million for being a slouch.”
Revis actually is making $12 million this season, a wise investment after he was released by Tampa Bay in March. He’s due another $20 million next season, an amount the Patriots almost certainly won’t pay, paving the way for possible free agency.
But Revis is setting his sights on the Ravens, hoping to reach his third AFC championship game after making back-to-back appearances with the New York Jets in the 2009 and 2010 seasons.
Top-seeded New England (12-4) had a first-round bye while sixth-seeded Baltimore (11-6) beat Pittsburgh 30-17 in a wild-card game last Saturday.
Revis has made a career of shutting down top receivers by devoting himself to perfecting his technique, studying film, learning from experience and using trickery.
“It’s a chess game out there,” said Revis, a Pro Bowler in six of his eight seasons. “You’ve got to bait the receiver. Sometimes you’ve got to bait the quarterback.”
Make them think you’re doing one thing, then do something else.
Most importantly, Revis has exceptional ability to blanket receivers, seeming to know the route and mirroring it.
“I think that has something to do with him being a really good basketball player in high school,” said Brandon Browner, another outstanding cornerback in his first season with the Patriots. “What we do at cornerback is the same thing a point guard’s doing. He shadows them step by step.”
So closely, in fact, that some players are reluctant to throw to the receiver Revis is guarding.
Not Joe Flacco.
The playoff-tested quarterback — 13 touchdown passes and no interceptions in the Ravens’ current five-game playoff winning streak — doesn’t plan to ignore whomever Revis covers.
“You allow them to dictate something by who they match him on,” Flacco said. “When we’ve played against some guys and … tried to avoid him or done things game plan-wise to get matchups in other places, it usually just takes your attention away from what you should be doing.”
Besides, the Ravens are the best at picking up big chunks of yardage through the air even when a receiver doesn’t make a catch.
They led the NFL by drawing 14 defensive pass interference penalties that were enforced this season with six of those drives ending in touchdowns and four in field goals, according to STATS. Torrey Smith led the league with 10 of those calls.
“We’ve got techniques that we’ve been working on” to avoid those, said Revis, who hasn’t been penalized for pass interference this season. “We recognize these things and we see them on film.”
A completion and pass interference require the receiver to do the same thing: Get in position to make the catch.
“You can’t really go in there and say, `Hey, we’re going to try to get the pass interference call,”‘ Flacco said. “Those usually happen by our receivers going out there and playing well and getting themselves in positions to make big plays.”
Revis probably will be matched up against Steve Smith, a 14-year veteran.
“Does he age?” an amused Revis said. “His age is what it is on paper, but he’s still electrifying.”
“Is Revis still Revis?” Steve Smith said to laughter. “I think his ID and his Social Security number would say he’s still Revis.”
He led the Ravens with 79 catches and 1,065 yards receiving then added five for 101 yards in the wild-card win over the Steelers.
Revis leads the NFL with 123 passes defensed since his rookie year with the Jets in 2007 and led the Patriots with 14 this season.
He’s looking to add to that on Saturday.
“You have to stay focused. You have to continue to stay patient,” Revis said. “I just work on technique and that’s what’s been keeping me around.”