Sat, Jan 01, 2005 - Page 19 News List

Jets' Martin may be ready to blast off against Rams

NY TIMES NEWS SERVICE , HEMPSTEAD, NEW YORK

Every time this season that Curtis Martin has produced a bad game, he has followed it with a spectacular performance a week later.

So now, after an emotionally draining loss to the New England Patriots in which he generated only 33 yards on 13 carries, he could be the Jets' most important player when they face the Rams in St. Louis, looking for a victory to assure themselves a playoff spot.

When his worst game of the season ended Sunday evening, he was approached by several Patriot players, who informed Martin, the most productive runner in Jets history, that their game plan had been to stop him, no matter how many players it took.

"Charlie Weis was my running back coach on the Jets," Martin recalled Thursday.

But in recent years, Weis has been the Patriots' offensive coordinator (he will take over Notre Dame after the season), and Martin believes that Weis made sure that the Patriots' defenders zeroed in on him last Sunday.

Martin described himself as "fired up" and "angry" as he prepared for the game against the Rams, who have to win to keep their own playoff hopes alive.

It was why Martin addressed the troops in a rare moment of anger on Wednesday, telling them the loss to the Patriots was one of the worst games he had experienced in his seven years with the Jets.

The words came from Martin, a running back who views himself as the pivotal player on the Jets, "a responsibility I accept," he said.

On Sunday, he will go against one of the poorest run defenses in the league -- the Rams rank 27th out of 32 teams -- and he will do so at a moment when he usually shines: the week after.

Amid all the current talk about Chad Pennington's problems at quarterback, and whether it is his feet or his shoulder that may be hampering his throws, it is Martin who may determine whether the Jets win or lose.

The first time the Jets faced New England this season, Martin was held to 70 yards on 20 carries. A week later, he averaged 6.1 yards a carry against Miami, with 115 yards.

Then, after a game in which the Buffalo Bills held him to 67 yards, he generated 119 yards against Baltimore. Another big test came against a tough Pittsburgh team, which held him to 72 yards. A week later, he shredded Seattle for 134 yards.

Those performances are all part of his career high of 1,544 yards this season. And the Jets won all of Martin's rebound games, except the one against Baltimore, which rallied to win in overtime.

"He's a Hall of Fame running back," Herman Edwards said.

Edwards went on to note that Martin "never got started" against the Patriots and then hinted that this Sunday might be different.

Edwards, of course, is not really going to let on as to what he plans to do against St. Louis. But he let everyone in on this piece of strategy: He wants the Jets to score as early as possible.

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