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Should The Jets Bench Curtis?

By Mark Cannizzaro
Jets Insider.com Head Writer
September 23rd, 2005
Jets RB Curtis Martin has been a much less effective runner when injured in past seasons. (Jets Insider.com Photos)
Jets RB Curtis Martin has been a much less effective runner when injured in past seasons. (Jets Insider.com Photos)
The theme of this week, since the moment he walked into the trainer's room early Monday morning and revealed to trainer Dave Price that his right knee was sore, has been Curtis Martin.

Would Martin be able to play against the Jaguars Sunday with a bruised knee?

If so, how effective will he be?

The answer to the first question, based on Martin's pain tolerance, which has become legend in these parts, was always this: Yes, he'll find some way to play.

Martin, after all, has played in 109 consecutive games, the longest active streak in the NFL for running backs. He's been with the Jets since 1998 and has missed one game since then, Week 5 in 1998. In his career, which dates back to 1995, Martin has missed only four games.

The answer to the second question, even as the Jets ready to play the Jags Sunday, is more difficult to answer.

As mentally-tough as Martin is and as remarkable as his resolve is, historically, he has not performed well in games the week after sustaining an injury.

Martin was hurt twice in 2000, a knee injury in the opener and a torn tailbone muscle around midseason, and twice in 2002, a left ankle sprain in Week 1 and a right ankle sprain several weeks later. In the four games that followed those injuries, Martin rushed for a combined 118 yards on 45 carries, a 2.6-yard average.

Now, consider this: Martin is rushing for a 2.5-yard average through two games this season. Add those numbers to his post-injury numbers and the thought here is to give Derrick Blaylock some added carries to see how he fares against a stout Jacksonville defense with fresh legs.

Martin has practiced since Thursday, sitting out only Wednesday's practice, and that leads us to believe this injury isn't nearly as debilitating as some of his others. So he's definitely going to play Sunday.

It's just that the Jets gave Blaylock a $3 million signing bonus in the offseason because they felt he was a good talent. Sunday is the perfect day to let him display that talent, even if mixed in with Martin even if to help save Martin's legs for the next week.

Herman Edwards somewhat scolded himself for allowing Martin to be ground into the Giants Stadium Field Turf by the Dolphins' defense for 31 carries last week.

There was no reason for Martin to be carrying the ball 31 times in Week 2 of the season. This, after all, wasn't a playoff game, and besides, why is Blaylock here if you don't trust him?

The Jets made this mistake too often by ignoring LaMont Jordan. Let's hope they learned a thing or two from that underutilization of talent.

This is something that Edwards and offensive coordinator Mike Heimerdinger have to learn to balance better.

"(Blaylock) is a good change-of-pace runner,'' Edwards said. "He has a little burst in the hole, quick feet and can get outside. So he's a guy that obviously will be involved in our offense a little bit more. He needs to be because you can't ask Curtis to carry the ball 31 times a game. That's not fair to Curtis. It's really not.

"Last week was one of those games. It was a game that we needed to win. If you look at the stats in the league, most teams run the ball 30 times or more, your chances of winning are about 90-percent. I'm not real smart, but I know a little bit about certain numbers that you need to try to get to in a football game. Certain things I always look at. That was one of the numbers. We had to run it over 30 times, make it a short game. If you did that, you had a chance to win. We were fortunate enough to do that, not turn the ball over.

"We'll run the same plays (for Martin and Blaylock), but they're not similar runner. One guy is a Hall of Famer.''

To keep Martin in Hall of Fame shape, though, more Blaylock will help.

INSIDER EXTRA POINTS

Another reason to try to save Martin's legs a little bit, particularly when that right knee is obviously a little vulnerable is the upcoming schedule, which is a running back's nightmare.

The Jets have already played the Chiefs, who enter this weekend ranked No. 8 against the run, and the Dolphins, who are ranked No. 4.

After this week they face the Ray Lewis-led Ravens, who are ranked No. 10 against the run, then the Buccaneers, who are ranked No. 1 against the run and in overall defense, and then the Bills, who are ranked second in overall defense.

"I believe that this is the toughest schedule defensively against the run that I have ever gone up against in my entire career,'' Martin said. "This streak of games that we have coming up, nobody can say that we're at least going to get 100-yards minimum against any one of these teams. I mean, we don't play any slouch defenses, especially against the run.

"This is the schedule for a running back that if you had to pick your own schedule, all of these teams that we're playing are teams you wouldn't pick to play.''

Jets' left guard Pete Kendall called this stretch "Brutal,'' adding, "I'm like a golfer right now, trying to navigate my way around the course and stay out of trouble.''

Herman Edwards said he believes this stretch of tough games is "pivotal in a way that we'll find out a lot about ourselves because of who we play and who's on our schedule.''

"They're very, very good football teams. All of them seem to have good defenses. With that in mind, we have to have that mindset going into this. It started for us Miami week. We knew these guys were going to have a good defense, it was going to be a tight game and it turned out to be that.

"Going down the stretch now, we have to look at it that way and be very, very careful going into these games. You don't want to get behind, that's not a good thing against a good defense, because, if that happens, you're playing right into their hands.

"Possession becomes very critical. You only get so many possessions when you play defensive teams, and if it holds up, like it generally does, there are usually 10 or 11 possessions in a football game. With that being said, you can't turn it over and you can't get into a scoring position and come out of there with no points. When you play teams like this, obviously three points is good, because you might not score a lot of touchdowns. Points are critical and all the sudden your special teams are very critical in my estimation.''

****

With Martin's incredible toughness and ability to block out pain so much a part of this week, Chad Pennington revealed that he spoke privately with Martin last season to ask him how he deals so well with injuries.

"When I was hurt last year (rotator cuff tear), I talked to him a lot about how to deal with pain, injuries and how you play with injuries and how you not let it be a distraction,'' Pennington said. "He's the best I've ever seen at taking an injury and using that injury, not as motivation, but using it in a positive way. He finds a way to take an injury and make it part of his being, where he just expects it to hurt.

"It's nothing that's a distraction, he just goes out and plays. It's kind of what he talked to me about. Just finding a way to mentally understand and mentally make your mind say, "This is how I feel," and go out and play. I never saw one wince Sunday (against the Dolphins). I had no clue he was hurt. He still had that blank stare on his face that he always has on the sidelines and I had no clue he was injured.

"Curtis exhibits mental toughness. His picture should be in the dictionary right there beside mental toughness and what that really means because he displays it, he understands how to deal with it. It's amazing to watch him go through it.

"I talked to him and tried to use that philosophy to try and help me understand that it was a pain and that it was going to be there and not go away. Why make it a distraction? Just make it part of your normal being and everyday life.''

Martin, when asked where he gets his resolve from, said, "You just learn how to push through it and how to take yourself to different pain tolerance, or take your threshold to a different level every time. I've learned from one injury to another to get better with dealing with it.''

Martin said he doesn't look at his refusal to bow out of games as a "pride thing,'' but as his "obligation'' to the team.

"Most of the time you're not going to play healthy, you're going to be in some type of pain,'' he said. "I believe a lot of times your value and your legacy and consistency depends on how well you deal with things like that. My main thought is that all pain is temporary. It can't last forever. You can get through it for three hours in a game and then you can suffer and cry and everything afterward.''

****

Things to look for in the Jaguars' game:

-Jags' running back Fred Taylor has faced the Jets twice and rushed for 100-plus yards both times. Taylor has rushed for 261 yards and a TD on 52 carries against the Jets. On Sept. 29, 2002, he posted his second-most yards from scrimmage against the Jets _ 237 yards on 142 rushing and 95 yards receiving.

-Jags' quarterback Byron Leftwich has played one game against the Jets, completing 17-of-33 for 172 yards and a INT for a 54.1 passer rating.

-Jags' receiver Jimmy Smith has played in five games against the Jets, catching 15 passes for 229 yards and a TD.

-Chad Pennington has played the Jags twice, completing 46-of-73 passes for 517 yards, 1 TD, 2 INTs and a 77.3 rating.

-Curtis Martin has played six games against the Jags, rushing for 378 yards and 3 TDs on 106 carries and catching 18 passes for 139 yards. He has no 100-yard rushing game among those starts, though he did rush for more than 100 in the Jets' 1998 season playoff win.

-Laveranues Coles, who's from Jacksonville and went to high school there, caught 8 passes for 97 yards in his only start against the Jags.

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