- Ian O'Connor, ESPN Senior Writer
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The Colts' best player, Peyton Manning, doesn't only get to throw and throw and throw some more; he can control the rhythm of the game with all of his unnerving gesticulations at the line.
The Jets' best player, Darrelle Revis, doesn't get to control anything, other than Reggie Wayne. If Manning decides that Revis should be no more involved in the action than, say, the injured Jim Leonhard, the cornerback might as well stage another holdout and take the week off.
"If Peyton doesn't throw it my way," Revis said Thursday, "I can't do anything about it."
And that's what reduces Saturday night's otherwise enticing sudden-death game in Indy to a bit of a bummer. Manning is arguably the league's best offensive player, and Revis is arguably the league's best defensive player. If nothing else, this matchup should be the NFL's answer to Pacquiao versus Mayweather.
"As a fan," Revis said, "yeah, you want to see the highlight players perform. That's why they buy their tickets. That's what you want to see."
But Manning is too smart to trade haymakers with another heavyweight, especially when he can bully some of Revis' faceless friends in the secondary. So if you want to see Manning and Revis go at it down after down, pass after pass, buy yourself one of John Madden's video games and enjoy the show.
Just don't count on Peyton Man-ing up to the epic challenge that is Revis, a cornerback who doesn't have a single interception to his name this season and yet one who wears that fact as a badge of honor.
"A lot of guys have not thrown his way this year at all," Manning said. "You can see that on film, that they have not thrown in his direction a lot because when you do, you'd better be accurate with the football. It will be a challenge."
But is it a challenge Manning will embrace?
He mostly stayed away from Revis in winning last year's AFC title game, and there isn't a good reason for Manning to change that script. The Jets' defense is Charmin-soft in the middle of the field, and Peyton likely sees Antonio Cromartie as the more vulnerable point of outside attack.
And Eli's big brother doesn't do manhood challenges; he proved that earlier this week by refusing to engage Rex Ryan in any verbal sparring, his way of marginalizing the Jets coach.
Peyton pours all of his time and energy into the game plan, precisely why he was able to back away from center on more than one occasion last January and correctly call out every assignment each Jets defender had.
"I've never seen a quarterback know somebody's defense that well," Revis said, "to point it out and know actually what you're in. To me that's like he's toying with us."
Revis and his teammates talked about that remarkable sequence -- Manning going 11-for-11 on his educated guesses -- in the postgame locker room, where the Jets' Super Bowl hopes were buried under the soiled towels and shredded ankle tape littering the floor.
"It was like, wow, that's crazy," Revis said.
One year later, the cornerback burns to match his beautiful mind against Manning's. But this isn't the NBA, where Kobe Bryant can't devise a strategy to keep the ball away from LeBron James. It doesn't matter if competing NBA stars don't guard each other when their teams meet; they will often end up locked in entertaining shootouts, anyway.
Manning is programmed to avoid greatness on the defensive side of the ball. So Revis' competition with the quarterback is usually confined to pre-snap staredowns.
He makes a lot of eye contact with the Mannings and Bradys, and Revis said, "They look at you like, 'Yeah, bring it on.' And I'm like, 'Yeah, I'm bringing it on.'"
Asked if Manning's stare is more intimidating than most, Revis said, "No, because I'm looking at him with a mean face, too, just as much as he's looking at me."
Truth is, Revis and Manning are bonded by mutual respect. The cornerback would never call Peyton a slouch, and the quarterback would never call Revis an average cover man.
They got to know each other a little at the Pro Bowl. "He's a cool guy," Revis said, "but you've just got to watch him because he tries to ask you questions about what you saw on this play, or what were you thinking on this play. He tries to sneak those types of questions in. You've got to be aware of him."
Yes, you've got to be aware of Peyton Manning. Revis likened him to a chess master, one who sees the board three moves ahead of his foe.
The goal, Revis said, is to "out-chess the guy." It would be a whole lot of fun if Manning gave him the chance.
Imagine that: Manning throwing conventional wisdom to the wind, saying the heck with it, and daring Darrelle Revis to make his day.
"It's not like I'm a defensive lineman and I can control something with the pass rush," Revis said.
He can't control anything, again, except Reggie Wayne. In the end, the otherworldly cornerback needs the otherworldly quarterback to cooperate.
"I love it when quarterbacks come at me, because that's what I do," Revis said. "That's my business. ... Peyton might come at me all the time, and he might not."
Logic and history say he might not. Manning likes to compete, but hey, he's nobody's fool.
If he keeps the ball away from Revis, the Colts have a better chance of winning.
So what if sports fans have a better chance of losing?