Plaxico Burress misses practice again

FLORHAM PARK, N.J. -- Plaxico Burress missed practice for the second straight day, but he insisted Thursday his balky back won't keep him out of Sunday night's AFC East showdown against the New England Patriots.

"Feeling pretty good, getting better each day," said the New York Jets' wide receiver, who expects to practice Friday. "I'm making progress and getting my rehab. ... Everything will be fine, just like last week."

Not all of the injury news was positive. The Jets probably will be without safety Brodney Pool (sprained knee), who plays a lot on passing downs. They also may not have kick returner Joe McKnight (toe), who leads the league with a 40.2-yard return average.

"Little concern with Brodney, I'm not sure right now if he'll go," coach Rex Ryan said, adding that McKnight is "more of a wait and see."

Antonio Cromartie would replace McKnight as the primary kickoff returner. Actually, Cromartie began the season in that role, averaging 23.6 yards, but he sustained a rib injury in Week 3, opening the door for McKnight. Since then, McKnight has been a dynamic playmaker, with a 107-yard kickoff return. He also has a small role on offense.

Burress' injury bears watching. The lower-back stiffness flared up during the bye week, and he almost didn't play last Sunday in Buffalo.

He admitted he didn't think he'd play when he woke up Sunday morning.

But he played -- and played well, catching every pass thrown to him (five) for 79 yards, both season highs. It was the first time in Mark Sanchez's career that he completed all of his passes to a wide receiver when that receiver was targeted at least five times, according to ESPN Stats & Information.

It was another indication that Sanchez and Burress, after struggling to connect early in the season, are developing a rapport. Even when he misses practice, Burress said he's in "constant communication" with Sanchez. About a month ago, they started meeting once a week, along with wide receiver Santonio Holmes, to study tape and discuss pass routes and coverages.

"Now he gets a better feel for who Plax is as a player," Holmes said.

Holmes made it sound as if he and Burress suggested the meetings, a way of "carrying our young quarterback under us and teaching him the things we see and he hasn't seen. ... It's helped calm Sanchez down a whole lot."

Burress, 34, suffered his worst game of the year against the Patriots, dropping two passes in a 30-21 loss. Perhaps not coincidentally, his improvement has coincided with the Jets' three-game winning streak.

Two games ago, he caught three short touchdown passes in a win over the San Diego Chargers.

Two months removed from prison, Burress walked into training camp, predicting he'd shock everyone who doubted his ability to still play at a high level after two years away from the game. But the transition was tougher than expected.

"My physical skills haven't gone anywhere," he said. "It's just a matter of getting in football shape."

Rich Cimini covers the Jets for ESPNNewYork.com.