Sat, Nov 20, 2004 - Page 20 News List

Curtis Martin nears 1,000-yard mark

AMERICAN FOOTBALL The Jets running back needs 16 yards to reach 1,000 yards for the 10th consecutive season. He would become the second NFL player to have logged that kind of productivity

NY TIMES NEWS SERVICE , HEMPSTEAD, NEW YORK

There is the ball he caught to score his first touchdown of the season. There is one for his first rushing score and another when he sped past Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis and burst into the end zone last Sunday.

All season long, the footballs have been piling up in a stall just to the left of Curtis Martin's locker -- by Thursday there were 10 in all for each touchdown that Martin has scored.

But Sunday's game at Cleveland may bring the one that Martin considers most meaningful of all.

Martin needs 16 yards to reach 1,000 yards for the 10th consecutive season. He would become the second NFL player -- Hall of Famer Barry Sanders is the other -- to have logged that kind of productivity.

"It hasn't really hit me as like `You've accomplished this, you've accomplished that,'" Martin said. "When I'm done, I think it'll be something great that I can go back and watch some films with my kids when I have them and say, `Look, there goes your daddy right there."'

While the 31-year-old Martin said he finds most milestones hollow, he conceded Thursday that matching Sanders' mark for consistency might be more significant than any other accomplishment. "To do special things, it takes special effort," Martin said. "There's something different about you. There's something I appreciate about that."

Perhaps more than at any other time in recent years, Martin has become the fulcrum of the Jets offense, sharing the team lead for receptions and spearheading the team's rushing attack, which is ranked fifth in the NFL.

His productivity this season is also a big reason why the Jets' play-action passing game, which is central to the offense, has been so effective.

And at an age when many running backs begin to slow, Martin is on pace for the most prolific season of his career. If, as expected, he reaches 1,000 yards on Sunday in the Jets' 10th game of the season, he will have reached the mark faster than in any of his previous nine seasons in the NFL.

Martin is on pace to gain 1,749 yards this season, which would top his career best of 1,487 yards as a rookie with New England in 1995.

His 984 yards on 218 carries, including nine touchdowns, leads the American Football Conference and is second in the NFL to Seattle's Shaun Alexander.

Martin, who has never won a rushing title, has attributed his success to an intense off-season training regime that included several trips to California to run a flight of more than 200 stairs near the beach in Santa Monica. The workout had been recommended by a friend, who said the stairs were even more than Martin could handle.

"I've grown into myself spiritually, mentally, emotionally and physically, and, at the same time, I am working hard to keep my physical body in shape," Martin said. "Right now, I feel like I am at my best."

Perhaps the most astonishing part of Martin's productivity is that he has remained consistent at one of the NFL's most demanding positions at only 5-foot-11, 210 pounds.

"His endurance speaks for itself," said coach Herman Edwards. "You talk about a guy that's not the biggest back in the world, hasn't missed a lot of games. Just shows up. Plays hurt. He keeps running. Everyone keeps wondering, `When is he going to break down?' He keeps breaking records."

Already this season, Martin has moved up five spots to seventh on the NFL's career rushing list -- passing Marcus Allen and Jim Brown. Martin's streak of 100 starts is second on the team only to center Kevin Mawae, who has started 105 and who said he had grown to appreciate Martin's accomplishments even more so this season.

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