NFL News of October 22, 2003

The collective sigh of relief coming from the Jets this week is not only for the impending return of quarterback Chad Pennington on Sunday against Philadelphia. It also recognizes the return to form of Curtis Martin.

The Jets’ running game looked so bad in the first four games of the season — when Martin’s best day was 21 rushes for 64 yards — that people within the organization wondered if Martin was in permanent decline.

Martin has not had a 100-yard game this season, and his streak of 1,000-yard seasons (in each of his first eight seasons in the N.F.L.) will end if he does not average 63.8 yards a game in the Jets’ final 10 games. That seemed unlikely until two weeks ago. Not anymore.

Martin rushed 17 times for 88 yards against the Texans, but the most impressive number was his 5.2-yards-a-carry average. His 20-yard run in the Jets’ final scoring drive was a signature run, full of sharp cuts and changes of direction that had tacklers flailing in his wake.

…So why the renaissance? Certainly the decision during the bye week to pare the playbook to only four runs and a handful of blocking schemes has helped. The blocking, in particular, has improved, and Coach Herman Edwards noted that for the first time, the blockers were getting to the second level of defenders — the linebackers — with chip blocks.

—Judy Battista, The New York Times “Pennington Returning; Martin Is Already Back”

Martin finished the 2003 season with 323 carries for 1,308 yards, though he scored only two touchdowns.

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