Martin's has been a long-running story

He's now up to 7th on NFL rush list

By Christopher L. Gasper
Globe Staff / October 25, 2004

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FOXBOROUGH -- After Curtis Martin's first game as a Patriot in 1995, when he rushed for 102 yards and a touchdown on 19 carries, coach Bill Parcells declared that nobody should be sending his rookie running back to Canton, Ohio, just yet. Ten seasons and 12,352 rushing yards later, Martin is ensuring his own place in pro football's Hall of Fame.

The former Patriot workhorse, who departed New England to sign with the Jets in 1998, has been building his case for the Hall while climbing the NFL's all-time rushing chart. Yesterday, the 31-year-old Martin passed Cleveland Browns legend Jim Brown for seventh on the all-time rushing list.

But Martin, who is on track for his 10th straight 1,000-yard season, which would tie Barry Sanders's record, was in no mood to talk about his place in history after his team squandered an opportunity to end the Patriots' winning streak and seize sole possession of first place in the AFC East, dropping a 13-7 decision to the defending Super Bowl champions yesterday at Gillette Stadium.

"I'm not downplaying it," said Martin, "but right now it doesn't mean too much. I have a lot of respect for Jim Brown himself, but especially in times like this you're feeling kind of emotional about the game so you don't even think about career accomplishments or stuff like that."

Martin, who entered the game as the NFL's leading rusher with 613 yards and was averaging 122.6 per game, was held to just 70 on 20 carries. His longest run was only 9 yards as New England made containing Martin a priority.

On a key third and 5 on the Jets' last possession, old friend Willie McGinest stuffed Martin for a 3-yard loss on a draw play, setting up Chad Pennington's ill-fated fourth-down attempt to Wayne Chrebet, which sealed the Jets' fate and extended New England's winning streak to 21.

"They're known for running draws against us. They've been gashing us on that for a while," said McGinest. "Coming in to the game, we knew Curtis was a threat. They want to get us running upfield thinking pass. They've done that in the past a lot, so inside we were just cognizant of the fact that we needed to play the draw first and then go after the quarterback."

McGinest, one of the few Patriots who has played both with and against Martin, said he is not surprised that Martin is still rolling along long after he left Foxborough, the Patriots fearing that his days as a workhorse were numbered.

"I've never believed that," said McGinest. "Curtis has been a great back since he's been [in the league]. He is a workhorse. He is the foundation of that team. Whenever you think of the Jets you start with Curtis Martin. He's one of the best backs in the league and he has been for a long time."

Since leaving New England following the 1997 season, Martin has rushed for 8,553 yards, steadily climbing the all-time rushing list. The 31-year-old entered the game needing 31 yards to pass Brown. Martin surpassed Brown on a third-down carry in the second quarter, picking up 5 yards to set up a first and goal at the New England 8, which led to a 1-yard TD run by quarterback Pennington.

Martin also passed Sanders for fourth all-time in the category of carries by a running back, toting the ball for the 3,063th time in his career on a 1-yard run in the second quarter early in the same drive.

"Curtis can go anywhere," said Belichick, who has coached with and against Martin. "We have seen him [where] he starts inside and goes outside. He starts outside and cuts back. Everybody has to do a good job across the board and I thought our defensive line and our linebackers took care of their responsibility. You are always going to miss some tackles against him. He is such a great back."

Martin said he doesn't take any extra pleasure in reaching two milestones against his former team. He's more upset that his team lost a key division game. He'll reflect on his place in history later.

"I'm definitely appreciative. I appreciate what I've been able to accomplish," said Martin. "I feel very humbled that I've even been able to stay in the league this long. I never really expected to play this long. I said, `I'm gonna put forth my best effort and when I retire I'll see where I come out.' "

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