No matter how you look at it, Steven Jackson and the Rams made progress on Sunday.
Steven carried 22 times for 81 yards and St. Louis fell just short of a last-second win over the defending NFC West Champion Arizona Cardinals, losing 17-13 at the Edward Jones Dome.
Steven pushes through the Arizona defense this past Sunday (Getty Images).
St. Louis had its opportunities to win and led 13-10 going into the fourth quarter. After falling behind by four in the fourth, rookie quarterback Sam Bradford had the Rams in scoring position, about to crack into the red zone with less than two minutes to go, but Bradford was intercepted by Kerry Rhodes who returned it 65 yards deep into Rams territory.
Tim Hightower fumbled on the very next play for the Cardinals, but because of the long Rhodes return on the interception, the Rams had 71 yards to go in 1:21 and couldn’t pull off a miracle.
Steven has never been big on moral victories, but did acknowledge flashes of evolution during the loss.
"I think we competed," No. 39 said. "We left a lot of turnovers…we didn’t capitalize on a lot of opportunities. To go forward and turn this thing around, I think we showed a lot of progress today. I will say that. I don’t want to discredit some of the young guys. But we have to get a killer instinct. We have to be able to put a team that’s good like that; we’ve got to be able to put them away. We’re getting there. There are some things to be proud of in this game. But to be a true leader, I can’t be satisfied with a loss."
For his part, Steven did all he could to ease the pressure on Bradford. No. 39 averaged nearly four yards per carry on the ground and when he wasn’t running, he was standing back as a blocker and absorbing big hits to keep Bradford on his feet.
The result was a big first day for the rookie quarterback, who threw for 253 yards and his first career touchdown while completing 32 of a whopping 55 passes. S-Jax told the Belleville News-Democrat that what Bradford was able to do in spite of the circumstances, was impressive.
"To have a lot of pressure like that from the defense, to have guys out there talking and chattering trying to get under his skin and trying to get in his head, I think he was really composed,'' Steven said. "He commanded the offense in the huddle when he needed to. He even corrected some calls in the huddle. You can't expect him to just turn things around in one day, but he is making huge strides and he's going in the right direction.''
While Bradford was chucking the ball, Steven went to work doing what he does best. He carried just two times in the first quarter and picked up 11 yards. But on the third play of the second quarter, Steven turned one loose. No. 39 took the handoff from Bradford and broke to the left, leaving a sea of defenders in his wake as he cut through the first two levels of the Cardinals defense.
Once he was deep into the secondary, Steven was grabbed by Cardinals defensive back Ryan Adams, but S-Jax gave Adams a free ride down the field five yards before finally being forced out of bounds with an 18-yard gain. No. 39 tacked on runs of seven and three on the same drive and his early count was five carries for, his number, 39 yards, a 7.8 yards per carry average.
SJ39 strategizing on the sideline during the first quarter (St. Louis Post Dispatch).
At the half, Steven had eight carries for 47 yards. His eight-yard carry on the first play of the Rams final drive of the half set off an eight-play, 63-yard drive that ended with Bradford’s first touchdown pass, to Laurent Robinson, as time expired on the quarter, giving St. Louis a 13-10 lead at the break.
SJ39 added 14 more carries for 31 yards in the second half, and also caught a pair of screen passes in the game, but St. Louis was unable to capitalize on seven forced fumbles and four turnovers from Arizona.
"We’ll I’ve learned there’s no such thing as an ugly win," S-Jax told Rams.com. "I’m not…I can’t let the guys be satisfied with coming up short. I think I would do an injustice to this team. We competed; it was good to have the crowd behind us. It’s been a while since we’ve had that kind of energy in the dome. But we have to, as an offense and a defense, as a complete unit, when a team is making mistakes; we have to be able to capitalize on it."
Bryan Burwell of The St. Louis Post-Dispatch noticed Steven as one of the last players left in the locker room after the loss and was a believer that No. 39’s "no moral victory" attitude is good for the Rams:
In the near-empty locker room more than an hour after the game, Steven Jackson was one of the last men in the room. He was not quite ready to play the role of a satisfied customer either. And maybe that is another sign of why this football team is heading in the right direction. Jackson said it best. Let the fans be satisfied. Let guys like us in the media be satisfied. But he will not let any of his young teammates think that what happened Sunday was a good thing, no matter how much better it looked than the mess we've seen around here in the past.
"Look, I can't let the rookies in this locker room think what happened was good enough," he said. "Losing is losing. I don't want my young teammates to be satisfied that we did anything today other than lose."
Last week, Steven was voted as Rams offensive captain for the whole season by his teammates, the second straight year he’s been voted to captain.
National Sports Review’s Josh Dhani wrote about Steven’s leadership through adversity this weekend.
The St. Louis Rams would finish out the 2009-10 NFL season with a 1-15 record. Every game was looking forward to mostly losses. Victories were sometimes a distance memory, or just a dream. But for Steven Jackson, it didn’t matter. His team was building, and it was his job to lead the team even during the tough times.
Jackson looks to do what he keeps on doing in 2010. Everything is in place. People should give him the credit. Not only just for his sportsmanship, production, and if you look at the situation he is in. But there is one thing that makes him unique: he will never quit. It may sound normal for people not quitting, but trust me, no…. If any running back were in the situation of Jackson, they would want to quit. They would either want to go into free agency or request a trade.
Not Steven Jackson.
When it all goes down, he will continue to support his team. Even through the tough times.
Win or lose, he won’t quit and won’t back down.
He is a true leader.
To read Dhani’s entire column, click here.
The Rams are back at it this week, looking to build on last week’s progress and make waves in the NFC West.
This time, they’ll head West for an inter-conference battle with the Oakland Raiders in the black hole.
The Raiders were blasted 38-17 by the Tennessee Titans on Sunday and may be vulnerable to Steven and the Rams running game after surrendering 205 yards on the ground to Tennessee, including 142 to lead back Chris Johnson.
Kickoff of the battle by the bay is scheduled for 3:05 CST and the game can be seen regionally on FOX.
Rams lose home opener (Belleville News-Democrat, September 13, 2010)
Recapping the Rams vs. Cardinals (RamsHerd, September 13, 2010)
Sam Bradford and an NFC West in transition (ESPN.com, September 12, 2010)
Rams get an old result (St. Louis Post-Dispatch, September 13, 2010)
Rams learning to win (StLouisRams.com, September 13, 2010)
Rams didn’t look half bad this time (St. Louis Post-Dispatch, September 13, 2010)
NFL Game Center: Arizona Cardinals at St. Louis Rams (NFL.com, September 12, 2009)
Rams RB Jackson deserves credit, continues to support team in tough times (National Sports Review, September 11, 2010)