In just a single season, things have changed dramatically for Steven Jackson and the St. Louis Rams. And after a stirring win on Sunday over the San Francisco 49ers, they immediately turned their attention to their next game: a chance to reach the postseason in several years.
The Rams used a balanced attack, including 48 yards rushing, 19 receiving and a touchdown from SJ39, to defeat the 49ers, 25-17, in their final home game of the regular season.
Steven getting the Rams fired up prior to beating San Francisco (St. Louis Post Dispatch.)
The win pushed the Rams to 7-8 on the year, now six wins more this season than they had last year, a remarkable turnaround led by Steven, rookie quarterback Sam Bradford and the entire Rams organization. Steven believed the team effort of the entire season was embodied in the team win on Sunday.
"It speaks volumes and it wasn't just one player and it wasn't just one phase of the game," Steven told Nick Wagoner of Rams.com. "I think everyone contributed equally in this game. When situations called our special teams stepped up and defense, they were outstanding, our pass offense. It was a total win and that's what you wanted to see."
But even that won't matter to St. Louis if they can't finish with one more victory next Sunday. The Rams head to Seattle next week, where the NFC West crown will be on the line during their game with the Seattle Seahawks. The winner will move on for a home playoff game the following week in the NFC Divisional Round. The loser will go home empty-handed.
"We're playing another tough divisional foe that matches up with us well," Steven said on Sunday. "But I think guys showed today that we're hungry. We're hungry to be successful."
EARLY SCORING RUN
St. Louis entered Sunday's game with San Francisco just as hungry. They even jumped out to a 9-0 lead.
The first score of the game came compliments of SJ39.
The Rams opened the game with the ball and featured a Steven-centric attack on their first drive. Bradford gave the ball to No. 39 on three of the first six plays and St. Louis gained a pair of first downs in the process.
After a six-yard pass to Steven put the Rams in a 2nd and 4 at the SF 40, Bradford decided to air it out and his deep ball was intercepted at the 1. But a flag came in on San Francisco for pass interference in the end zone, instead giving the ball to the Rams on the goal line.
Steven finished the drive with a run up the middle, punishing three would-be tacklers and carrying two of them in with him for a touchdown to the raucous approval of the Dome crowd.
"You kind of want to set that bar, to when teams come in they're intimidated," S-Jax told the Belleville News-Democrat. "They know it's going to be a loud atmosphere, guys are going to play really well, and I think we've done that for the most part at home."
After Steven's sixth touchdown of the season gave them a 7-0 lead, the St. Louis defense stepped up to sack 49ers quarterback Troy Smith in the end zone for a safety to make it 9-0.
"Our defense really showed up for us through and through," SJ39 told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. "From the beginning of the game they set the tempo for us, and we just followed suit."
The defense kept it up, allowing a total of 33 offensive yards on San Francisco's first four drives of the game. But after a few Rams drives stalled without any further points, San Francisco gained some momentum and soon scored on back-to-back possessions, sandwiched around a Josh Brown field goal.
With those scores, it was the 49ers that took a 14-12 lead into halftime. Steven could tell at that point that the Rams needed a boost and they got it from their coach at the break.
"It was to leave everything out there," No. 39 told the Post-Dispatch of coach Steve Spagnuolo's halftime message. "Thirty minutes of football between if we were going to have a possibility of winning the division. Or put ourselves out of contention to go into the postseason. It was a talk that I think really propelled us. It was good to see our leader do that — Coach Spags."
St. Louis came out recharged and took a 15-14 lead thanks to a Brown field goal on their first offensive drive. It was a lead they would not relinquish on their way to the eight-point win.
"It feels good to just play for something else other than personal pride," Jackson said. "Having a young team like this, you just really want to hopefully help them understand that these things don't come easy. I know personally that my first year, going to the second round of the playoffs, I thought it would be a year-in and year-out deal and it hasn't been so."
Steven and general manager Bill Devaney celebrate Sunday's win (St. Louis Post Dispatch).
Steven finished with just under 50 yards on the ground, but fought for extra yards all afternoon to keep the Rams from falling into a one-dimensional attack. His efforts did not go unnoticed by his teammates.
"'Jack' (Jackson) had some tough runs," Bradford told the Post-Dispatch. He kept 'em off-balance. We'd hand it to him, he'd grind out a couple. So really everyone played great."
When he wasn't on the field, No. 39 worked the sidelines, keeping his teammates motivated like any true leader would.
"Sometimes it's not on the field, but on the sideline as well," explained Steven. "Making sure guys stay in it mentally and things like that. Guys responded well."
The Rams now hold their fate in their own hands headed into the final week of the season.
They enter Qwest Field this Sunday with an opportunity to go to the postseason for the first time since 2004, Steven's rookie year.
"That's exactly what we want," Jackson said. "When you get ready to go into the postseason, you want to have things in your destiny and we control it."
The Rams defeated the Seahawks 20-3 earlier this season at the Edward Jones Dome behind 124 yards from No. 39. They'll look for the season sweep under the lights.
The NFC West Championship Game has been "flexed" by the NFL schedule makers to Sunday night in primetime on NBC. It is the Rams' first nationally televised game since December 20, 2007 when they played the Pittsburgh Steelers on NFL Network.
Sunday's kickoff is scheduled for 7:30 CST and the game can be seen coast-to-coast on NBC.
- 1 down, 1 to go for Rams (St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Dec. 27, 2010)
- Opportunity Knocks, but can Rams answer? (Post-Dispatch, Dec. 27, 2010)
- One more win and they're in (Belleville News-Democrat, Dec. 27, 2010)
- Bradford comes up big, with help from the line (Post-Dispatch, Dec. 27, 2010)
- Defense sets the tone for Rams (St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Dec. 27, 2010)
- Win and you're in (101 ESPN, Dec. 26, 2010)
- Rams get big win when it counts (Rams.com, Dec. 26, 2010)
- Rams eager to resume playoff push (News-Democrat, Dec. 26, 2010)
- Rams-Seahawks head to prime time (St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Dec. 27, 2010)