After a 4-4 start to their season, Steven Jackson and the Rams reached their hard-earned bye this week with things looking up.
The Rams wrapped up the week early with a practice on Wednesday and from there, Steven headed west for a few days of R & R.
"I will spend a little time with family and friends, and just enjoy the next four days off," Steven told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.
Things got better for the Rams during the off week as both divisional rivals playing on Sunday, the Seattle Seahwaks and the Arizona Cardinals, lost their games. Seattle’s loss boosted the Rams into a tie for first place in the division entering the second half of the season.
"It’s very exciting," S-Jax told the Post-Dispatch before Sunday’s turn of events. "We’re always setting goals for ourselves. This month of football will be very important for us to get ourselves in a position to be able to play in the postseason.
"I’m very, very happy. It’s very, very exciting for me. It’s been a long time, since 2006."
Though Steven and his teammates deserve plenty of credit for bringing a winning mentality back to St. Louis, No. 39 also feels that a lot of credit belongs to the coaching staff for staying on the players and never giving up on them. He believes it has toughened them for what’s to come, as he told Bryan Burwell of the Post-Dispatch:
"I think in (Spagnuolo's) leadership, we've learned how to deal with adversity in a manner that we don't panic," said tailback Steven Jackson. "We kind of embrace it. We accept that things are going to happen, but we also know that it's also about the 53 guys with Rams helmets on who are going to change it. I think guys have really embraced that thought and philosophy."
Burwell writes of the moment that S-Jax himself bought into that philosophy:
What Spagnuolo has done is get this team going in the same direction. He has done it through the power of his personality, which is incredibly positive and always upbeat. He seems to model his style after another low-keyed man of faith, Tony Dungy, who got his point across with minimal screaming, absolutely no cursing, but also with an unmistakable ability to get across the point that he is in charge.
Jackson tells the story of his first-hand encounter with that quiet but stern hand. It was last year at the first full-squad practice at training camp. Spagnuolo told the players it was going to be full-contact practice, which meant all-out, bring 'em to the ground tackling was in full effect.
Jackson, however, did not fully comprehend what that meant. He was expecting guys to let up when they tackled him, but on the first play he touched the ball, linebacker Chris Chamberlain came at him with a fury.
"Chris came up and went low at my knees and I didn't like it," Jackson said. "I lost it. I was mad and coach let me vent. But he came over to me and very quietly we spoke."
In essence what happened was, without making a big scene or show of authority, Spagnuolo stood next to Jackson, folded his arms and quietly told him, if you don't embarrass me in public, I won't embarrass you. So calm down and understand that I need you to buy into this full contact at all costs. I'm trying to instill toughness in our team, and if you buy in, everyone will.
Jackson calmed down, went back into the huddle and completed the rest of the practice with a high-energy embrace of the full contact. In fact, after practice in talking to the media, he made a particular emphasis of how much he liked the full contact.
"That's exactly how it happened," Jackson said. "It was that perfect way of showing you how he doesn't try to handle you, try to control you. He really just knows how to lead. I respect that. We all do. He has a way of showing you why you should buy in, and we all have. Remember that New England (preseason game)? Remember when they had their starters play deep into the third quarter, and Coach just kept our young guys in there? The way our young guys handled them the way they did, that was one of those subtle ways he showed us that the system worked not just with starters. I think that's the moment when he really won us over."
Spagnuolo’s practices may have hardened some of Steven’s teammates, but there’s never been a question about the toughness of No. 39.
Throughout the years, S-Jax has missed some games, but more often than not, he’s played through pain. This season is a prime example. Despite a groin strain and a broken finger, Steven has suited up for all eight of the Rams’ games. That grit is something that he prides himself on, as he told the Post-Dispatch:
"Some of the backs that I admired growing up were tough football players," he said. "You hear about Emmitt Smith and playing with a separated shoulder. Those kind of stories that I heard growing up kind of fueled me to want to be a tough, old-school type of football player — someone that's gritty and willing to put it on the line week in and week out.
"Professional football is a violent sport, and … it's not always about numbers and statistics. It's about giving your team an advantage. In my case, keeping a defense honest."
Since breaking the finger, Steven has been limited to the use of just one hand in playing the game. A lesser player might take a seat, but instead, SJ39 is plotting how to work within the confines.
"Originally the injury (was) six to eight weeks," Jackson said. "When we play the 49ers (on Nov. 14), that'll put us at Week 3 from the day that it happened. I'm hoping that I could probably after the Atlanta game (on Nov. 21), if things look good on the X-ray, get the pins taken out. So we're probably looking at two more games of having the pins in."
If his teammates didn’t already have as much respect as they could for Steven, he’s earning more:
"That guy's tough," quarterback Sam Bradford told reporters after Sunday's 20-10 victory over Carolina. "For him to be out there today was huge for us."
"You can't slow that guy down. I don't think anything with his hand changed anything in the run game today or really anything with our game plan."
Bradford knows a thing or two about debilitating injuries. The rookie suffered two devastating shoulder injuries last season at The University of Oklahoma. Many questioned his toughness, but he persevered. Right before the Rams drafted Bradford, SJ called him to check that toughness meter and heard everything he needed to hear.
"He reassured me that he felt like his shoulder was stronger than ever and he was ready to lead the team, ready to make an impression on us and help us get back to winning ways," Steven recounted to the Associated Press.
With toughness both mental and physical, SJ39 and Sam Bradford have both done just that.
The Rams look to make the jump above .500 for the first time this season on Sunday when they head to San Francisco to take on the 49ers in a NFC West showdown.
Kickoff from Candlestick Park is scheduled for 3:15 CST and the game can be seen on FOX.
- In NFC Worst, Rams bid for playoffs (St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Nov 8, 2010)
- Sifting through the NFC West rubble (ESPN.com, November 8, 2010)
- Rams put their faith in Spagnuolo (St. Louis Post-Dispatch, November 8, 2010)
- Rams are among NFL’s top surprises (Belleville News Democrat, Nov 8, 2010)
- Steven Jackson playing one-handed (ESPN.com, November 4, 2010)
- Jackson heads home for much-needed rest (Post-Dispatch, Nov. 4, 2010)