When the Jets' offense takes the field Monday night in Atlanta, a streak of major significance will fall. It's one that should not be overlooked.
Kevin Mawae will be standing on the sidelines of the Georgia Dome in street clothes and not in uniform in the middle of the Jets' huddle and offensive line, a place he's manned without interruption since the beginning of the 1997 season.
Mawae, whose streak of 177 consecutive starts is third among active NFL players to only Packers' quarterback Brett Favre and Chiefs' guard Will Shields, is scheduled to have surgery on Wednesday to repair a torn triceps tendon in his left elbow. He's out for the season, a place he's completely unaccustomed to.
"I've never dealt with this before,'' Mawae said. "Obviously I'm disappointed and upset. The injury is not going to be the hard part to deal with. The hard part is not being able to play the game. You get hurt in this game. You know it's going to happen, but I've always had the ability to fight through it and overcome it.
"But to not be able to step on the field and be out there, that's what's going to hurt more than anything. I've taken a lot of pride in being out there week in and week out. I've never missed a game.''
Mawae, who takes immense pride in not only be a leader but in being counted on, which is what makes this injury so tough on him. This week, Mawae has vowed to stay a big part of the team despite being injured.
"Until there's a time where the coaching staff feels that I don't need to be on the sideline I plan on being at the rest of the games,'' Mawae said. "I'm not going to be one of those guys that go on IR and disappears for six months. I don't think that's what a team leader does.
"I'm going to stick around, be a part of this team, I'm going to sit in at meetings and installations and the whole bit. I just won't play and won't practice.''
Jets' tackle Jason Fabini, who'd played alongside Mawae for eight years, conceded that it'll be "weird'' not seeing him there Monday night in Atlanta.
"More than anything, I just felt bad for him because he takes great pride in being out there every week,'' Fabini said. "He was upset, but there's nothing you can do and he knows that. You just feel bad for him. He works hard and prides himself on being out there and being tough.''
What's particularly tough luck for the Jets is this: Just when they seem to have gotten their running game in gear _ Curtis Martin rushed for a season-high 148 yards last week _ they have to go without their best offensive lineman in Mawae.
"We're going to miss him, there's no doubt about that,'' Herman Edwards said. "But we've lost some players already, so I'm not going to all of a sudden make it a gloom-and-doom situation. That's not me. You've got to deal with it.''
When you see a picture of Mawae on the sideline Monday night, think of the 177 consecutive games he started, think of the six consecutive Pro Bowls he's been voted to, think of the classy way in which he's conducted himself through it all.
And, do this: Hope this isn't the last we've seen of Mawae in a Jets' uniform. There are salary cap implications as well as the Jets' need to get younger at a lot of positions. Mawae should be back, because he's far from done and he still represents a significant leadership role in the Jets' locker room.
Speaking of veterans in the Jets' locker room, what has come of Wayne Chrebet?
His production is in a downward spiral. Since losing his starting job in 2002, when he had a career-high nine touchdown receptions, Chrebet has simply not been the same player. He's rarely even shown glimpse of being the player he once was.
More than one source inside of Weeb Ewbank Hall is convinced Chrebet has simply lost a step or two and cannot get open the way he used to in that uncanny fashion.
"His time has passed,'' said one highly-placed source in the building.
In fairness to Chrebet, the Jets' offense has been a mess for most of the season with the team losing its two tow quarterbacks and trying to recover from that. With that, the opportunities for receivers to make plays have been fewer and further in between than expected.
Making Chrebet's lack of being any sort of factor _ he has a pedestrian eight catches for 77 yards _ so apparent is the fact that he was so fired up about the possibilities with offensive coordinator Mike Heimerdinger during training camp.
Chrebet indicated that, now that he was out of the shackling Paul Hackett offense, he would get back to doing the things he used to when he was such a force on third downs.
He, too, has always had such a synergy with Vinny Testaverde that you'd think that would be a natural connection. But it hasn't been at all, furthering the theory that Chrebet is having a hard time getting open.
"He has a pretty good knack with Vinny,'' Herman Edwards said. "Vinny has a decision to make when he pulls back to pass. He has some options to throw. It's not like we go back and say you have to throw to this guy. It's more of here's the read, here's where the ball's going and he has some options.
"Hopefully Wayne can get more into it. But, when you don't have enough snaps, when you don't have enough plays, you cannot get everybody involved in the game.''
Chrebet has been unafraid in the past to speak up about wanting more passes thrown to him. Three seasons ago, with the Jets in the middle of a three-game wining streak, he used the New York Times as his forum to complain about a lack of action.
This week has been different. Chrebet was reluctant to complain about his lack of playing time and production.
"I'm not going to go there," he said. "Everybody wants to ask me about this now, but I'm just focused on winning. I believe in this team. I sound like I'm the real old guy in here. But whatever my part is, I've accepted that. It's 2005. I love coming to work. I love the guys in this locker room."
The irony of Chrebet's career is that he was at his very best while paired with Keyshawn Johnson, who he couldn't stand. Chrebet had 75 catches for a career-high 1,083 yards and eight touchdowns in 1998.
This season, Chrebet is averaging career-lows of 18.5 offensive plays, 2.5 passes thrown to and 1.3 receptions per game.
Ironically, Chrebet's low point this season had a chance to be a high point of the season when he was unable to hold onto the potential game-winning touchdown pass from the ailing Chad Pennington against Jacksonville. That pass, which Chrebet still insists he had to hang onto, still haunts him. His waning amount of playing time with the Jets wanting to work Jerricho Cotchery in more, has humbled Chrebet to a degree.
"The last couple of years, I went from being a starter to not being a starter, and I've accepted my role, whatever it is," he said. "The quantity of plays doesn't matter. It's not a concern."