NEW YORK -- On Nov. 21, Damien Woody sprained his right knee so badly that it swelled more than Rex Ryan's confidence. No one, not even his closest teammates, expected him to play Thanksgiving night.
Only 79 hours after the injury, a period that included round-the-clock rehab, Woody started at right tackle and played every snap in the New York Jets' victory over the Cincinnati Bengals. Why take the risk with the New England Patriots next up on the schedule?
Because if you're an offensive lineman for the Jets, and you're able to breathe and walk, you play. It's an unspoken and unwritten tenet in the offensive line room. They're the mettle heads of the team.
When the Jets face the Patriots in their AFC East showdown Monday night, it will mark the 47th consecutive start for the first-team line, counting the postseason. They have a new left guard this season -- Matt Slauson for Alan Faneca -- but the streak lives. Not only is it one of the most productive lines in the league, but it might be the most durable.
"There's a lot of -- I don't want to say 'pressure' -- but there's an understanding," right guard Brandon Moore said. "If you can go -- if there's any inkling you can go -- you go. Whether that's good or bad, that's something else."
The last time a starter missed action was Weeks 16 and 17 in 2007, when left guard Adrien Clarke was benched in favor of Will Montgomery. That was a coach's decision, an experimental move at the end of a 4-12 campaign.
You have to go back to 2006, Weeks 2 and 3, to find the last time a starter missed a game because of injury. That year, left guard Pete Kendall broke his foot and was replaced for two games by Norm Katnik.
No doubt, offensive line continuity is a big reason why the Jets have compiled a 27-16 record over the past two-plus seasons, including a league-best 2,756 rushing yards last season. It's remarkable: In that span, the Jets have used only six different starters. As a comparison, the Patriots have started 10 different players. The New York Giants already are up to nine -- this season alone.
"I guess it's because we're tough, but we don't want to let each other down," said Slauson, the newest member of the fraternity. "It's kind of like sucking it up for your brother. You don't want to let him down by missing."
Moore has started 100 consecutive games, his milestone announced to the home crowd during the pregame introductions Thursday. Center Nick Mangold and left tackle D'Brickashaw Ferguson each have started 75 straight, neither of them having missed a single game since arriving as first-round picks in 2006. Woody has a 43-game streak.
Mangold sprained his right shoulder in the Week 2 win over the Patriots, but he took a pain-killing injection and played the following week. Slauson hurt his right knee last month in Detroit, but he vowed not to miss any time, insisting he wasn't going to ruin the line's streak.
He played, of course.
Woody was a close call. Initially, he didn't give himself much of a chance to play on only three days' rest, but he rehabbed virtually 24 hours a day. He spent more than 12 hours a day at the Jets' facility, then went home, received massages from his wife and slept with an electronic stimulator attached to his knee. Needless to say, there were a few restless nights before the Thanksgiving game.
"Personally, I just feel like if I can help my team win, I'll get out there and do it," said Woody, adding that there's no way he will miss a game as big as Monday night.
Obviously, luck has factored into the streak. Otherwise, how do you explain it? Moore paused a few seconds before answering.
"Here, there's a big standard: If you can play, you play," he said. "I guess having older guys -- guys who take pride in being available -- has a lot to do with it. I mean, nobody talks about it. It's not like we sit around in a room with a board that shows how many starts we have. We just play."
In the first meeting against the Patriots, the Jets' line was a key component in the 28-14 victory, allowing the offense to control the ball for 20 minutes, 2 seconds in the second half. If the line can duplicate that in the rematch, the Jets will be in good shape. One thing is certain:
They'll be there, all five of them. As always.