Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Martin A Model Of Consistency

EAST RUTHERFORD, NJ- Throughout his 11-year NFL career, Curtis Martin has been a model of consistency. In 11 seasons with the Patriots and Jets, the 32-year-old five-time Pro Bowler has rushed for more than 14,000 yards in his career. He became just the fourth back to reach that mark in a Sunday night game against the Saints on November 27- joining Hall of Famers Emmitt Smith (18,355), Walter Payton (16,726) and Barry Sanders (15,269).

Entering his eighth season with the Jets, Martin was also in exclusive company with Sanders as the only backs in NFL history to ever rush for 1,000 yards in each of their first 10 years. Until he sat out Sunday for the first time since October 11, 1998, Martin had played in 119 consecutive regular season games and 126 total (7 playoffs). Playing through right knee pain much of the season, he was trying to match Sanders as the only backs to rush for 1,000 yards in their first 11 years. Having ran for 735 yards in 12 games leading up to Sunday, much of the focus was on Martin. That all ended against Oakland.

"Being the competitor that I am, it's hard for me to know when not to compete. At that time I usually turn to people around me whose opinions I trust, and that's what I did," Martin said.

"The one thing about [Martin], if he doesn’t think he can help the football team, he won’t do it," said Coach Herm Edwards. "If he thinks he can help the football team, then he will play. It would be the first time he didn’t show up for one since I’ve been here."

Possibly inspired by his teammate, defensive end John Abraham had two sacks which forced fumbles recovering one while defensive tackle James Reed retrieved the other in sparking the Jets to their first win in over two months- 26-10 over the Raiders to snap a seven-game losing streak.

"When I look at the offense for one guy to keep me going, it's Curtis," Abraham said. "He comes out every week and plays his heart out. It hurt to see it ending like this."

In eight seasons with the Jets, Martin has always been the one constant on offense. He became the all-time franchise rushing leader in Week Two of 2004- passing Freeman McNeil. Counting this year, he has run for over 10,000 yards (10,302) in his Jets career.

Last year, he became the oldest back (31 years old) to win the NFL rushing title with a career best 1,697 yards- edging Seattle's Shaun Alexander. Martin also finished with 14 touchdowns and was named a First-team All Pro.

Before missing Sunday's game; amazingly enough, Martin had only sat out of four games in his brilliant career. It's not like he didn't play through injuries as he had this year while the Jets struggled. Even with his team out of the playoffs, the focus was on one thing. Winning.

"That’s more important than anything right now, getting the third," he pointed out last Thursday. "That’s because you’re always pressing to win a game and we haven’t won a game around here in a long time and we just need to win a game. We just need to win."

Despite his accomplishments, the classy former University of Pittsburgh star has always put the team ahead of individual goals. It was never more evident than when he went over 14,000 yards. After a 23-yard run which gave him the mark, Martin handed the ball to the official instead of keeping it. After falling short that night, he put things in perspective.

"As a professional, you would trade all the milestones for a win," he pointed out. "It really doesn’t matter if we are going to the playoffs or not, 3-8 would have meant everything to me tonight."

"He is so focused in the game. A lot of the time he doesn’t think about that stuff," Edwards noted. "I went over and shook his hand and told him. He just got his mind on playing again and what he was trying to do. That is the kind of guy he is.”

Not surprisingly, Martin was unaware that he had joined such exclusive company.

"When it happened I was on the sidelines and I didn’t even realize it until they flashed it up on the JumboTron. No big celebration – none of that," he said. "Like I said, I feel the celebrating will come when I’m done with football and it will be something I will be able to look back on and appreciate. I appreciate it now, but I think it will mean even more to me when I’m done playing."

One thing is certain as Martin faces season-ending arthroscopic knee surgery. Never count him out. Something his coach knows all too well.

"He is always available. He always seems to answer the bell," Edwards said. "When you look over his career, it’s kind of amazing. When you talk about those 14,000 yards, how many of those have been big runs? That’s a testament to him and the type of player he is. He’s had a remarkable career and it just keeps going on. If you are betting, you always bet on Curtis Martin."


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