FLORHAM PARK, N.J. — Turning 30 as an NFL running back historically means it’s time for a new career. The Jets are thinking a little differently, considering their starter is 31-year-old Matt Forte.
The production rate of backs over 30 isn’t strong, and Forte has been below average at times this season, rushing for only 157 yards. But in last week’s loss to the Dolphins, Forte displayed youthful energy on a 21-yard screen pass. He broke four tackles to convert a third-and-19 and had his offensive coordinator gushing. John Morton showed his group a tape of the play Monday as an example of what a player on this young and scrappy Jets team is supposed to do.
“Unbelievable play. Watch that play,” Morton said after Thursday’s practice. “That effort, that determination, it was third- and-19. And listen, we got the blocks and he did the last 10 to 12 yards on his own. That’s the kind of drive and determination we need every single play, all the way to the end of the game. It’s an example of a veteran guy. He’s always been a good screen runner. It was remarkable.”
For the Jets (3-4) to succeed this season, they need players like Forte to remain healthy despite the wear and tear that 10 NFL years can put on a man’s body. On Sunday, they will count on him to make plays in the running and passing games against the Falcons (3-3) at MetLife Stadium.
For Forte, being counted on at age 31 isn’t a major deal.
“It doesn’t change, it depends on how much you take care of yourself,” Forte said. “After playing the game, I still feel I played a game at running back. It says it’s a young man’s game, but each year there’s a lot of young guys out of college coming in. If you can be consistent, you can stick that out where each year you’re basically trying to be replaced. But if you’re consistent and show that you’re valuable, you can stay around for a long time.”
Among NFL starting running backs, Forte is the third oldest, behind the Colts’ Frank Gore, 34, and the Cardinals’ Adrian Peterson, 32. Forte doesn’t believe he’s old, and neither does his coach. “I don’t listen to what they say,” Todd Bowles said.
Forte doesn’t have great numbers this season. He’s rushed only 39 times because he missed two games with a turf toe, and he’s caught only 19 passes for 158 yards. He doesn’t have any touchdowns and has averaged only 3.8 yards per carry the last 10 games, dating to last season. Forte’s last rushing touchdown was last Nov. 6, and his last TD catch was last Oct. 23.
Health has been an issue, with Forte a weekly name on the injury report with knee or toe issues. The Jets, however, are confident in his ability because they see flashes of it, such as that nifty reception against the Dolphins.
“Broke a lot of tackles and he made a lot of people miss and a few blocks here and there along the way,’’ Bowles said. “It just showed his grit and determination. That’s been his whole career and that’s how he got in this league. It was vintage Matt and it was good to see.”
Forte has one year remaining on his contract, and despite his age the Jets have kept him around because he works well in Morton’s passing attack. Morton likes to use Forte on screens and wheel routes. He also likes to utilize running backs Bilal Powell and Elijah McGuire to keep everyone fresh. It’s something Forte is getting used to, but when a player gets older, change is the hardest thing to deal with.
“I think after 10 (seasons) you kind of take it year by year and after that see how you feel,” he said. “I want to be able to walk when I’m older, too.”