When Steven Jackson takes the field for Sunday’s AFC Championship game against the Denver Broncos, he’ll do so with his greatest career goal on the line.
Steven revealed this week that the opportunity to play for a Super Bowl was the primary reason he chose to sign so late in the season with the New England Patriots. It’s no secret that was SJ39’s goal in coming to Boston, but it is now just one game away from coming to fruition.
"That was the largest factor to be honest with you," Steven told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. "I haven't been in the postseason in quite some time. It had to be the right situation. It wasn't one where I couldn't move on with life or I couldn't move from the game. It had to be one that benefited both sides. And I think this is one of the few opportunities that allow that to happen."
The Pats will travel to Mile High Stadium to square off against the Broncos. New England punched its ticket last week with a sound 27-20 beating of the Kansas City Chiefs in the Divisional Round. The No. 1 seed, Denver made its way to the AFC title game via a 23-16 win over the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Last week’s victory marked Steven’s first playoff appearance since 2004, his rookie season. That year, his St. Louis Rams captured the No. 5 seed and beat the Seattle Seahawks in the Wild Card Round before falling to the Atlanta Falcons in the Divisional Round. So this week will be Steven’s first conference championship appearance.
Meanwhile, this will mark New England’s fifth straight AFC title appearance. In that span, the Pats have squared off against the Baltimore Ravens twice and the Indianapolis Colts once. This will be their second AFC Championship bout with the Broncos.
Nearly the entire New England roster boasts more playoff experience than No. 39. Fourth-year linebacker Dont’a Hightower, who has made the AFC championship every year in the league, talked about that this week—and how Steven’s outlook is helping bring energy and enthusiasm to a roster that has been blessed with team success.
“Absolutely, blessed from the jump and just talking to Steven Jackson the other day – this guy's been a great player all of his career and he's just kind of always been on the short end of the stick,” Hightower said. “Just talking to him and him being as happy and as proud as he is to be here, for all he's worked for to be here, a lot of guys kind of take it for granted. It was kind of a slap in the face that we're all blessed to be here and we do things different around here and that's why we're here.”
SJ39 has been a reliable addition to the Pats’ injury-riddled backfield. S-Jax rushed a combined 21 times for 50 yards and a touchdown in the final two games of the regular season. He also ran six times for 16 yards in the win against the Chiefs, a game where Patriots running backs totaled just seven carries. But Hightower explained this week that, no matter what workload the ground game garners, No. 39 will play a key role in the running back room.
“I haven't been able to be around Steven as much, but in the short time that we do have in the locker room you can just tell that he brings a lot to that running back crew,” Hightower said. “It's kind of funny just to see Steven and just a whole different generation of running backs. This guy's so big and then you see little James [White] and [Brandon] Bolden. They bring a lot. He brings a lot to the room and they really look up to him for leadership and he's just really done a lot for the short time that he has been here and I feel like a lot of guys look up to him.”
This week against the Broncos, Jackson and Co. will be up for a tough challenge against one of the best defenses in the NFL.
The Broncos have allowed the fewest yards per game league wide thanks to a stout run defense and a lockdown secondary. Denver’s unit ranks third in the NFL in terms of rushing yards per game and first in passing yards allowed.
Last week in the Broncos’ win over the Steelers, they did a pretty good job containing who was left in the Steelers backfield. Third-string running back Fitzgerald Toussaint had 12 carries for 39 yards and a score, while receiver Martavis Bryant rushed twice for 40 yards.
In the Week 12 meeting between the Patriots and Broncos, New England did not rely heavily on the run-game with a combined 16 carries between LeGarrette Blount, White and Bolden for only 39 yards. The team New England had out on the field against Denver earlier this season will look a little bit different when the Pats take the field this Sunday.
The Patriots most targeted offensive player in that contest was Scott Chandler, who led the team with 11 targets. Julian Edelman and Danny Amendola were both out with injuries and Rob Gronkowski was carted off the field and missed a chunk of action in the second half. With a receiving core back to full strength, the Pats offense should be ready to roll this time around.
The committee in the Pats backfield could be used a variety of different ways depending on how Bill Belichick and offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels devise the game plan with S-Jax, James White and Brandon Bolden. Regardless of how the game shakes out, Jackson has been getting more comfortable with the playbook and he will look get more assimilated this week.
“My teammates understand that we all play an important role,” SJ explained. “To win Super Bowls and to do it continuously like this organization has done, each guy understands that heir job is important. We may have guys banged up, we may be missing some people, but as long as guys understand and buy in, which they have done, we have a really good chance of doing some good things.”
The game is slated to kick off on Sunday at 3:05 p.m. EST from Sports Authority Field at Mile High and will be aired on CBS.
- Steven Jackson: Last opportunity that I will have a significant chance of winning a Super Bowl (New England Patriots, Jan. 12, 2016)
- AFC Championship Week: Patriots Quotes (New England Patriots, Jan. 22, 2016)
- Ex-Falcons Steven Jackson chasing unlikely Super Bowl appearance (Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Jan. 20, 2016)
- Former OSU star Steven Jackson one win from Super Bowl (The Oregonian, Jan. 21, 2016)
- Steven Jackson won’t have huge numbers, but could have huge impact vs Broncos (Today’s Pigskin, Jan. 22, 2016)