Curtis Martin left Pro Player Stadium in Miami on Sunday night wearing a white T-shirt, baggy jeans and a red baseball cap pulled low over his eyes. It was a fittingly youthful outfit for a 31-year-old running back who hasn't felt this spry in years.
Martin carried 24 times for 110 yards and a touchdown in the Jets' 17--9 win over the Dolphins. For the first time in his 10-year career, the usually slow-starting Martin has opened the season with three consecutive 100-yard games. "I feel as good as I've ever felt," says Martin, who moved into 10th place on the NFL's career rushing list, with 12,094 yards. "My body is refreshed, and I know it's because I put in a lot of hard work that's starting to pay off."
Nagging injuries weren't enough to keep Martin off the field over the past two seasons--he has only missed one game since joining the Jets in 1998 after three seasons with the Patriots--but they took a toll. After the 2002 season Martin was slow to recover from injuries to both ankles and didn't start running at full speed until the following July. As a precaution the Jets played Martin only sparingly during the '03 preseason and limited his practice time. "Curtis wasn't getting the reps, and he's a guy who likes a lot of reps," says running backs coach Bishop Harris. "He wants to see everything a defense is going to show him. He didn't have that last season."
Martin still rushed for 1,308 yards to extend his streak of consecutive 1,000-yard seasons to nine. More important, he went into the off-season without a lingering injury and was able to start his conditioning program early. His daily regimen included running steps on a cliffside in Santa Monica, Calif. After training camp began this year Harris told Martin he could expect more carries because he was in such great physical condition. After three games Martin is on pace for 453 attempts, which would shatter his career high of 369 carries, in 1998.
Though he ran for 196 yards in a season-opening win over Cincinnati and 119 in a victory at San Diego, Martin had his most satisfying game of the season against Miami. The Dolphins had held him under 100 yards rushing in five straight games--until Sunday. --Jeffri Chadiha