Here's a news flash: The Patriots need to stop Curtis Martin this Sunday.
This is nothing new. He's not the flashiest running back in the league, nor is he a guy who receives the attention he deserves. All Martin does is play with a level of consistency that few in the history in the game can match.
Martin needs just 17 yards this weekend to become just the third player in league history with seven straight 1,000-yard seasons to start his career, joining Barry Sanders, who did it 10 times, and Eric Dickerson, who stopped at seven.
Right now Martin is second in the AFC with his 983 yards, trailing only Pittsburgh's Jerome Bettis. He has all 10 of the Jets rushing touchdowns, and is second on the team in receptions with 29 grabs.
A three-time Pro Bowl player, Martin is once again putting up a top-notch season. For Patriots Head Coach Bill Belichick, it's only to be expected.
"He has looked on top of his game since 1995 to me," Belichick said. "When we opened with him with Cleveland in the first game of the 1995 season, he ran for 120 yards, or whatever it was. He's looked pretty good ever since to me."
In his NFL debut, Martin actually had 103 yards on 19 carries for New England. On the first carry of his career, Martin scampered for 30 yards against Belichick's Cleveland defense, and he won that game with a second-effort dive for a touchdown with just 19 seconds remaining, giving the Patriots a 21-17 victory.
What are the intangible qualities that make Martin such an effective back?
"Intangible? I think they are all tangible," Belichick said. "He's strong, he's tough, he's got good vision, he's smart and he knows how to use his blockers. Pound for pound he's probably as strong as anyone in the league."
If the Patriots can at least contain Martin, the rest of the Jets offense has not done a whole lot this season. Quarterback Vinny Testaverde has yet to throw for 200 yards in a game, and the leading receiver, Laveranues Coles, tops the team with just 35 catches for 500 yards and four touchdowns.
"If you look at the 300-yard passers I think they only win 50 percent of the time and it's usually the guys that fall behind during the game and they are forced to throw the football," Testaverde said. "Like I said, we want to be a little more consistent with our offense than what we've been and in doing so maybe creeping up to maybe 220 or 240 yards passing the ball and having more balance than what we've had. But I sure hope we don't have to go out and throw the ball a lot and get a 300-yard game."
What Testaverde said makes sense. The passing game hasn't had to do as much because of the situations the Jets have found themselves in. However, twice this season he has passed for less than 80 yards in a game, and he has just three touchdown passes in the last five games. It would benefit the Patriots to force New York to try and beat them through the air.
Center of attack
Every week when Belichick preps his team in meetings, he points to two or three opposing players he feels are the go-to guys the Patriots need to stop.
These guys are almost always skill position players, and the main guy for the Jets is Martin, who fits the bill. Next up is an unusual target: center Kevin Mawae.
As important as Martin is to the running game, Mawae may well be the key to the Jets entire offense.
"It's not very often you go into a game and say Kevin Mawae is a go-to guy," Belichick said. "He never handles the ball once he hands to the quarterback. When I say he is a go-to guy, he's the guy who really leads the running game, and the passing game on plays like screens and plays like that. He's the guy who when they get him out in front of the ball carries, whether it's Richie [Anderson] or Curtis, he's the guy who really helps make those plays go."
In Week Two, New York ran for 111 yards. 73 of those yards, including the 8-yard touchdown by Martin, went right up the gut at the Patriots defense. There was also a 29-yard burst that was nullified by a penalty. The Patriots need to do a better job closing gaps between Mawae and guards Kerry Jenkins and Randy Thomas.
Belichick said defensive end Willie McGinest and linebacker Matt Chatham would both practice for the first time Friday and would be game time decisions for this weekend.
The coach sounded more confident about linebackers Bryan Cox and Ted Johnson. Both were able to practice for the second straight day Thursday. Cox said his leg did hurt some, but he added that at this point in the season, everyone in the locker room was less than 100 percent.
New England also had to make a late addition to the injured list. Punter Ken Walter is now probable for the game because he has the flu.
Jets rookie wide receiver Santana Moss, a first-round draft pick, will be making just his second career appearance this weekend. He did not get a catch, but he did have an end-around carry for minus-6 yards in his debut… Antowain Smith has gained 100 yards in three of the last four games, and New England won all three of those games. In his career, Smith's teams are 9-1 when he goes over the century mark.