Steven Jackson can never be accused of giving up. It’s just not something he’s capable of.
So although the Atlanta Falcons struggled again on Sunday in a 34-10 loss to the Carolina Panthers, Steven made the most of every chance he was given and continued to fight for his team.
SJ39 carried 13 times and picked up 57 yards, an average of more than 4.5 yards per carry. He also caught three passes and picked up 19 yards receiving. Though pleased with his individual progress as he works his way back from injury, Steven couldn’t help but feel disappointed after Atlanta dropped to 2-6 with another loss and he immediately turned his attention forward to the upcoming week of practice.
“I was able to make a couple plays out there,” he told ESPN.com.“ Once again, a step in the right direction. Definitely some things to work on. [I’ll] look at the film Monday and see what I can get better at.”
If Steven can take the same steps forward from Week 9-10 that he did from Week 8-9, the Falcons will be in good shape. As The DW at Atlanta Falcons blog The Falcoholic wrote, SJ’s progress was one of the lone bright spots in Sunday’s loss.
“It was nice to see Steven Jackson running with some power again. He hit the holes hard and showed us what we had hoped to see all season.”
Likewise, fans on Twitter shouted out SJ39 for continuing to fight through an adverse season.
Steven Jackson is having a great game and I love it
— Mix Master Mike (@team_shelton) November 3, 2013
Monsterous run by Steven Jackson with Atlanta pinned back.
— Atlanta Falcons Blog (@GritsBlitzBlog) November 3, 2013
@sj39 Looks like you are getting faster and faster! Patience is being rewarded!
— solarmike (@solarmike) November 4, 2013
Positive note: Steven Jackson averaged 4.4 yards a carry yesterday. Quizz had 3.8.
— Rise Up Atlanta (@UsDirtyBirds) November 4, 2013
After gaining no traction in the running game during last week’s loss, the Falcons attempted to set the tone early in Sunday’s contest on the ground. SJ39 touched the ball on Atlanta’s first four offensive plays, and though he showed more burst than last week, the Falcs still had trouble moving the chains.
On the first drive of the game SJ carried for five yards on first down, but was knocked back a yard on second. Facing their first third down of the afternoon, Atlanta went back to Steven through the air as Matt Ryan dumped off a pass to No. 39. But SJ was stopped a yard short of the marker forcing the Falcons to punt.
After a quick three-and-out by the Panthers offense, the Falcons went back to Steven for a first down run on their next possession, but on the very next play, Ryan was intercepted by Carolina linebacker Luke Kuechly, setting the Panthers up with the ball on Atlanta’s 39. A short seven-play drive later, Carolina had a 7-0 lead.
The Falcons started to get things going on the ensuing possession as the running game and tight end Tony Gonzalez pitched in to help lead Ryan down the field. Steven and backfield partner Jacquizz Rodgers combined to pick up 24 yards rushing on the drive and Gonzalez had three catches for 46 yards as Atlanta matched down the field.
“Being able to set a tempo, set an attitude, establish that we’re going to run the ball regardless of a situation … for us to put that on film [and] for us to see us doing it and being successful at it, it helps feed the confidence in knowing that we can be a running football team,” Steven said afterward.
As a team, Atlanta gained 79 rushing yards on the day, their highest total since week 3 against the Dolphins.
“We ran the ball more effectively,” Falcons coach Mike Smith said. “Not as good as we would like to, but I felt like we ran the ball more effectively.”
The Falcons nearly cashed in that long drive for six on the ground. No. 39 picked up three yards on 1st and goal from the 7, two more on 2nd and goal from the 4, and appeared to plunge into the end zone from two yards out for his first rushing touchdown of the season on 3rd and goal from the 2.
However, that play was called back due to holding and Atlanta had to settle for a field goal that made it 7-3, rather than tying the game at 7-7. The missed opportunity would come back to haunt the Falcons.
The teams traded touchdowns late in the first half and Carolina went into halftime in front 14-10. The second half was all Panthers as Carolina reeled 20 unanswered points, including 17 in the fourth quarter, to turn a tight game into a blowout.
Steven will have another week to prepare and get closer the level he knows he can play at this week, and a familiar foe awaits on the other side.
The Falcons (2-6) host the Seattle Seahawks (8-1) on Sunday at the Georgia Dome. Seattle is a team that SJ39 is plenty familiar with through his time playing them twice a year in the NFC West with the Rams.
The Seahawks defense is perhaps better than Steven would be able to recall, as they have allowed the second fewest yards per game in the NFL this season. But SJ39 is ready for the challenge.
“It’s going to be another physical defense,” he said. “A team that’s very aware of my running style. I’m sure they’re going to have an extra guy in the box, especially coming off the little bit of success that we had today. We just have to continue to trust me, continue to trust my run reads, and continue to just lower my pads and run with authority.”
The Falcons will host the Seattle Seahawks on Sunday Nov. 10th at 1:00 p.m. ET and the game can be seen on FOX.