Curtis Martin in street clothes on the sideline is something that no one is used to seeing. (Jets Insider.com Photo)
For the rest of us it was just another routine run by Curtis Martin. On a fourth-and-1 in the midst of the Jets loss at New England two Sunday ago the future Hall of Fame running back scampered to the left side and saw 15 yards worth of running room.
Martin got two.
A fleeting moment for onlookers sounded alarms for the Jets running back. He knew his body could no longer perform at optimum level. That got the ball rolling and yesterday Martin was in street clothes for the first time in 126 games – a stretch dating back to Oct. 11, 1998.
Martin will undergo arthroscopic surgery on Wednesday to repair his injured right knee, which has hampered him since Week 2 when it collided with the helmet of Dolphins LB Zach Thomas. Martin, an iron horse when it comes to injuries, mulled over this decision for weeks until the pain finally gave way to logic.
“I wouldn’t talk to [the media] about it,” Martin said yesterday about the injury, “but it just reared its head to the point where I had problems doing anything, even jogging. And from week to week that’s how it’s been.”
Martin continued, saying: “I always say I like to try to play until it’s just stupid to play. I think there’s a difference between being out there and being able to perform, and I haven’t been able to perform the way I feel Curtis Martin should perform.”
His numbers validate that argument. Martin was averaging 3.3 yards-per-carry this season, a career worst. He likely wouldn’t have reached the 1,000-yard plateau for a record 11th straight season behind a patchwork offensive line. And with the Jets 3-10, the final three games are a formality.
“I’m more disappointed than anything,” guard Pete Kendall said. “When I think of all he’s done here and for the opportunity he had, for to not push him across that goal, I’m disappointed.”
After he was downgraded to doubtful on Friday, the Jets announced before yesterday’s game that Martin would have the surgery. As most players said they had no idea of Martin’s surgery until minutes before the game, DE John Abraham shared a difference of opinion.
“I found out earlier than you all did,” Abraham told reporters. “It was kind of stunning. I had a few more days to kind of get with it.”
Coach Herm Edwards reaffirmed today that no decision was made until Saturday, but the surgery was a long time coming.
The knee deteriorated more rapidly each week after the initial injury occurred in Week 2. After that Martin was a shell of himself, operating at no better than 60 percent. After Week 6 rolled around, Martin gauged his health at no better than 45 percent.
He was limited or held out of most practices, and the rust carried over to Sundays. He was battling too many factors, and early last week looked outward for advice, something his former coach Bill Parcells always said was ideal when his judgment was cloudy. He sat with Edwards, and they decided Martin would be a game-time decision against Oakland.
“Just because we’re having this conversation must mean that it’s a very bad situation,” Edwards told Martin. “There’s no way that you’d be sitting hear in this office if things weren’t drastic.”
Emotionally, Martin hit a low following the loss to New England when former teammates offered condolences on the Jets season. But physically he also was tapped, needing a shot of toradol (a pain-killer) just to suit up. “When I had to that, that started raising eyebrows, even my own,” said Martin, who managed 29 yards on 15 carries against the Patriots. The only other time he needed a pain-killing shot to play was his first game as Jet.
Martin watched from the sidelines as the Jets snapped a seven-game losing skid yesterday by besting the Raiders, 26-10. As common as playing with pain has become for Martin, it was equally disconcerting being a spectator.
“It was one of the strangest feelings I’ve had since I’ve been playing in the NFL,” he said. “This is new for me. Right now I’m like a fish out of water as far as my job goes.”
His teammates agreed. Said Abraham: “When I look to the offense to look for one guy to keep me going and keep me feeling like it’s worth playing, it’s Curtis.”
But even after the decision to shut it down this season was made, Martin didn’t have second thoughts. He told head trainer Dave Price, whom Martin credits for keeping him on the field this long, he is looking forward to surgery. As Martin’s understudy, Cedric Houston, rushed for 76 yards in his first career start, Martin had this scenario blaring through his mind.
“If the Raiders said to me: ‘Curtis, we’re not going to tackle you.’ I wouldn’t be able to do it,” Martin said.
Martin, 32, will likely need the extra month to rehabilitate the knee. His timetable for recovery is sketchy, since the specific injury – “a few things” need to be fixed, according to Martin – hasn’t been announced. Martin may want to fortify his health sooner to show the Jets he can still be an effective back. With an off-season shake-up of the offense likely, Martin may need to prove that 11 years of wear and tear haven’t taken their toll if he wants to stick around.
Edwards said he expects Martin to be with the team next year, and if need be would bring Martin back in a limited role. Martin’s contract may need to be restructured. But last week, the toughest decision was Martin’s to make.
“To have to make that call, it was just very difficult,” Martin said. “For me it’s not about the records, it’s about not being out there with my team.”
-Cedric Houston will be the starter the remainder of the season. Coach Herm Edwards was impressed with the way Houston ran yesterday, and said he is the Jets most improved player because he missed most off-season conditioning. Houston had a thyroid problem that kept him out of OTAs.
Edwards said Houston was too eager yesterday, and must show some more patience with the blocking (easy for Edwards to say).
-The Jets allowed just 179 yards of offense yesterday, a season low.
-B.J. Askew will continue to back up Cedric Houston.
With the Jets down to just one pure tailback in Cedric Houston, the return of RB Derrick Blaylock would lighten the load. But don’t look for Blaylock to be back. Much like Fiedler, Edwards each week says Blaylock might practice limitedly, and “we’ll see where he’s at.” Houston’s effectiveness yesterday also helped his cause.
-WR Harry Williams Jr. (knee): out
-QB Jay Fiedler (shoulder): out
-RB Derrick Blaylock (foot): questionable
-DE Shaun Ellis (hamstring): questionable
-DT Dewayne Robertson (thigh): questionable
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