HEMPSTEAD, N.Y. (AP) – Curtis Martin tried to outrun the inevitable.

After months of rehabilitation and countless hours working to get back on the field for the New York Jets, reality finally caught up to the NFL’s No. 4 career rusher.

“I think this is as good as my knee gets, where it is right now,” Martin said Wednesday at a news conference.

The Jets placed the 33-year-old Martin on the reserve physically-unable-to perform list with a bone-on-bone condition in his right knee, ending his season before it ever got started and jeopardizing his career.

“I usually deal with things the way they are now, and with the information that I know about my future, it doesn’t look like it’s too bright as far as me having a further career,” Martin said. “And if that happens, great.”

It took a few months for Martin, always classy and often overshadowed as a player, to reach the point where he could accept the idea his brilliant career might be over.

“I don’t know if it’s even possible,” Martin said of playing again. “It hasn’t been possible up to this point, so I’m not looking forward to saying I’ll definitely be back next year. It’s a long stretch, I’ll put it that way. And that’s the most honest answer I can give you.”

This wasn’t an official retirement announcement, but it sure sounded and looked like one, with cameras flashing every few seconds and at least two dozen reporters packed into the small media room.

“I’m officially not playing this year,” Martin said. “Retirement – that may be the inevitable result. I just haven’t gotten there yet.”

Martin kept his composure throughout the nearly half-hour news conference.

He referred to his career in the past tense a few times, and his outlook on playing again was far from promising.

Martin also thanked the team, the fans and even the media in an apparent sign of closure.

“To think that a guy might not be able to play again is devastating,” said Derrick Blaylock, who was signed last year to back up Martin.

“Aside from football, this is a guy’s future. If he’s not going to be able to play, that means a lot.”

Martin spoke with coach Eric Mangini on Tuesday night, and said he didn’t think he’d be ready to practice next week – the team’s deadline for a decision on his availability.

“I sat in Eric’s office and I said, “Eric, you know what? I just need one last conversation with the doctors.’ I said, “I even know. I know what they’re going to say and I know what the outcome is,’ but for some reason I just wanted that last conversation.”

Martin, who said he’s in game shape and at his playing weight, never got that final conversation, instead talking with general manager Mike Tannenbaum and deciding Wednesday was the day to end months of speculation.

“I feel bad for him, and I just hope he comes back next year,” linebacker Jonathan Vilma said.

Martin tore cartilage in the knee in Week 2 against Miami last season, and aggravated it two games later against Baltimore. He played through the pain, but ended his season after Week 12.

“I don’t think that it ever took a turn for the worse,” he said. “I think it’s always been what it has been.”

Martin said the knee became a “bone-on-bone” situation when the damaged cartilage was removed during surgery in December. He was slow to recover and was placed on the physically-unable-to-perform list before training camp so he could rehabilitate the knee.

“This is something beyond my threshold of pain,” said Martin, who often played through injuries throughout his first 11 seasons, but said it would be “totally stupid” for him to try to play through this one.

“Do I think I can tolerate the pain and go out there and score a touchdown? Probably. That’s just what I believe,” he said. “But do I think that that’s going to possibly hinder me from scoring a touchdown with my kids or running down the field with my kids? Yes.”

The five-time Pro Bowl player was eligible to come off the PUP list Oct. 16, but the team announced he’d remain on it until after the game at Cleveland last Sunday. On Monday, Mangini said he spoke with Martin, Tannenbaum and the Jets’ medical staff last week. They chose to hold off until next week on whether Martin would rejoin the team and practice.

Mangini reiterated that on Tuesday, but said things changed after talking with Martin on Tuesday night.

“I think his heart was saying one thing and, unfortunately, the injury was saying something else,” Mangini said.

Martin wasn’t sure if he’d have any more operations on the knee.

“I’m right on the borderline of having to get more done, but there’s a possibility that if I stop right now that I may not have to go through those procedures,” he said.

Martin spent his first three seasons with New England, and came to the Jets as a restricted free agent in 1998. His best year was his last healthy season in 2004, when he led the league in rushing with 1,697 yards and tied Barry Sanders’ record with 10 straight 1,000-yard seasons to start a career.

“He’s been the face of the franchise, and everybody here in the city loves him,” receiver Laveranues Coles said. “He’s New York’s guy.”

AP-ES-11-01-06 1605EST

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