The Jets will make history tonight against the Buffalo Bills at Rogers Centre in Toronto, Canada, as they play their first-ever regular-season game outside the country and in the first primetime NFL game played north of the border.
And Green & White running back Thomas Jones, with just 41 yards on the ground, will add to his legacy by reaching the 1,000-yard mark for the fifth consecutive season overall and his third straight with New York's AFC representative.
"When you are consistent, that's the key word — consistent," Jones said this week. "A lot of guys can have a good year here, a good year there, but I pride myself on being consistent. It's definitely an achievement. I've been blessed to be healthy and, in the right situations, to get 1,000 yards over the past couple of years."
In an era where many of the boastful grab the headlines, Jones has always preferred to take a team-first approach since arriving in New York on March 7, 2007. It's still somewhat mind-boggling to think that general manager Mike Tannenbaum got Jones by swapping second-round picks with the Bears and moving back just 26 selections. Jones responded with a 1,119-yard season in '07, then went to his first Pro Bowl following the '08 campaign after rushing for 1,312 yards and setting franchise records with 15 total touchdowns, 13 rush TDs and eight consecutive games with a TD.
And at 31, he's defying logic again by averaging 87.2 yards per contest with nine rushing scores. But TJ plays for team goals and he yearns for another chance in the postseason.
"Like I always say, my main goal and my main motivation is to win, try to get back to the playoffs and try to get back to the Super Bowl. I've always been a team player, and by having that mentality, good things have happened to me," he said. "Definitely for me to get 1,000 yards for the fifth straight season would be a great accomplishment, but in my mindset to play to win games is what's kept me consistent."
Following the Jets' 24-22 loss to the Jaguars to open the season's second half, Jones had seen enough and called a players-only meeting. He urged his teammates to keep grinding away and to remain a unit no matter what anyone on the outside had to say.
Fullback Tony Richardson recalled the Jones message: "Take care of all the little details, finish everything we do on the practice field and off the practice field, and get together in groups, study film together and come together as a football team."
Jones commands respect not because of his words but because of his actions. He torched the Bills for a franchise-best and career-high 210 yards on Oct. 18, but he couldn't crack the slightest of smiles afterward because the Jets lost a gut-wrenching affair, 16-13 in overtime. Then the following week, the Jets rebounded with a 38-0 thrashing of the Raiders in Oaktown but they also lost Leon Washington to a broken leg.
"Anytime we have a game like that, you want to cherish and enjoy it, but it's kind of hard to do that with Leon's injury," said a concerned Jones after rushing for 121 yards and a TD. "I think a lot of the team is devastated. He's one of my best friends. He's a great teammate and a great person. From the time he left the game, every couple plays I kept thinking about him. I haven't stopped thinking about it, and my prayers are going out to his family."
With Washington out, Jones has been asked to take on more of a third-down role and some of the responsibilities TJ has added may have gone unnoticed.
"That's the thing I think a lot of people don't really speak too much of because they see him when he has the ball in his hands or if he's catching the ball," said Richardson. "That's probably one of the hardest things that a running back has to recognize is all those looks and make sure you're protecting the quarterback. He's been doing a phenomenal job in that regard as well as everything else that he's been doing, but that's one thing that has really been sticking out to me this year. He's been asked to do something he wasn't asked to do last year and he's stepped up in that third-down role and he's been doing a great job for us."
An established vet in his 10th season, Jones has also mentored rookie back Shonn Greene as well. Greene, the third-round pick from Iowa averaging 4.7 yards per rush, is a future bellcow, but TJ's still making history.
"They're going to go study tape, he takes Shonn with him. He's not studying it by himself. He's being a true leader," said head coach Rex Ryan. "He leads by example, but he also encourages and brings guys with him and builds his teammates up. I'm really proud of him and he's got a great chance this week of going over 1,000 yards rushing, which is really a great compliment to him. He's done a great job running the ball. He's durable, dependable and humble."
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