Martin and the New York Jets have won five of their last six games heading into Sunday’s interconference contest against the Bears, who have lost 10 of their last 11 games.
Trying to become only the second player in NFL history to rush for 1,000 yards in each of his first eight seasons, Martin is 222 yards away from achieving the feat with three games remaining. He can receive a major boost from the Bears, who yielded 216 yards on the ground to Ricky Williams on Monday in a 27-9 loss to the Miami Dolphins.
Last week, Martin became the 16th player in NFL history to eclipse the 10,000-yard rushing mark, but was held to 57 yards on 18 carries in a 19-13 win over Denver. He has recorded just three 100-yard games this season, but two have come in the last four weeks.
The Jets are in the thick of the playoff race, one game behind Miami and the New England Patriots in the AFC East. If the Jets win their remaining three games and finish tied with Miami and New England at 10-6, then they will win the division on tiebreakers. The Jets have a better division record than Miami and a better record against common opponents than New England.
After playing Chicago, the Jets visit New England and finish with a home game against Green Bay. They could be caught looking ahead, but receiver Laveranues Coles is wary of the Bears.
“I think they’ll be our toughest opponent,” said Coles, who leads the Jets with 73 receptions for 1,022 yards. “They have nothing to lose. Every game for them is their playoff game.”
After catching 10 passes in a loss at Oakland two weeks ago, Coles had six catches for 126 yards, including the winning 28-yard touchdown, in last week’s win over Denver. He is the first Jets receiver to surpss 1,000 yards since Keyshawn Johnson in 1999.
“If I’m voting for MVP of the Jets, it’s Laveranues Coles,” said Jets coach Herman Edwards. “He’s just consistent. Every week, he keeps making plays. People double him, but he still finds a way to catch it and make plays.”
A case for MVP could also be made for quarterback Chad Pennington, who is 6-3 as a starter since replacing veteran Vinny Testaverde. Pennington was mistake-free last week, completing 19-of-30 passes for 244 yards and a touchdown.
Chicago’s quarterback situation is anything but stable this season. Sore-armed Jim Miller started the Monday night loss at Miami before leaving with an injury, veteran Chris Chandler struggled for most of the second half and third-string Henry Burris was used in spot relief.
The Bears have never won as few as three games in a season since the league instituted a 16-game schedule in 1978. They finished 4-12 in 1997 and 1998 under former coach Dave Wannstedt.
Chicago leads the series, 4-3, but the Jets won the last two meetings.