After 10 quarters, almost seven and a half combined hours of smashmouth football with the a two-week intermission, the result of Sunday’s game between the St. Louis Rams and the San Francisco 49ers — a gritty Rams win over their divisional rivals — couldn’t have been more gratifying for Steven Jackson and his teammates.
On the final drive in overtime the Rams put the ball in the hands of SJ39, who pounded the Niners’ brick wall defense for 16 tough yards on five carries as the clock ticked away. Jackson’s desperate pushes and a short Sam Bradford pass to Chris Givens helped set rookie kicker Greg Zuerlein up for the 54-yard game winner with just 26 seconds separating the two teams from another stalemate.
“Just a typical day at the office. Tough day,” Steven said after the victory. “I continue to just grind and when my number’s called, be who I am. It’s not about stats at this point in my career. At this point in my career, I want to win and that’s what’s most important.”
To get that win, the Rams had to survive a defensive struggle through the four quarters that spilled into an overtime period that very nearly went the distance. Sound familiar? Only three weeks ago, the two teams tangled for 75 minutes without producing a winner. This time, they only tangled for 74 and a half minutes.
Rams coach Jeff Fisher was elated with the win, which keeps St. Louis undefeated in its division at 4-0-1 and keeps playoff hopes alive. After the game, Fisher also had to own up to a failed prediction he made last week.
“Earlier in the week I was asked about what it’s like to play a team within proximity of just recently playing them again in three or four weeks,” he said. “I think I said the games are completely different, so I apologize for being absolutely wrong. Wow. That’s the case of guys just hanging in there. Guys making plays. Guys in the three different phases just making the plays that we needed to make.”
San Francisco’s defense appeared to be keyed in on SJ39 from the start, with the 101 yards he burned them for the last go-around fresh on their mind. SJax managed just 48 yards on 21 carries—including those critical 16 yards on the final overtime drive—but the Rams knew Steven’s all-around abilities were going to be crucial in knocking the 49ers off balance.
Steven found a new way to puncture the defense, snagging five passes for 69 yards and continuing to frustrate the NFC West Rivals. Offensive Coordinator Brian Schottenheimer remains more than impressed by Steven’s work ethic and ability to battle even late in games.
“The guy is just a workhorse,” Schottenheimer said. “He’s playing at a really high level. He’s doing so much for us and we are thrilled we have him.”
Sunday’s game was not one abundant with offensive highlights. What it did highlight is SJ39’s ability to grind time and again in the face of brutal opposition. SJax continued to will his team forward, just as he has all season. The Rams have now won two straight, and bloggers and sportswriters who follow and watch the Rams closely continue to rave about what Steven means to his team. EddieP of Turf Show Times wrote,
“Man, words cannot describe how valuable Jackson is to the Rams. Week in, week out, this man gives it his all.”
Nick Wagoner, who covers the Rams for StLouisRams.com, put into proper perspective what Steven was able to do in Sunday’s dogfight.
“Steven Jackson just finds a way, doesn’t he? The Niners locked down the run game and Jackson didn’t bat an eye. He simply burned the Niners in other ways. Against a great defense like the Niners, any back putting up more than 100 yards deserves a tip of the cap. What a player.”
Through much of the game, it looked like San Francisco wouldn’t budge an inch for the Rams. In the first half the Niners held St. Louis to just two yards a play. SJ39 was pushing again and again at the defense, but was finding zero give. Fortunately, the Rams defense was dishing it right back to the 49ers. The Rams held the Niners to 208 passing yards and held Frank Gore to 58 yards on the ground.
Sunday’s contest grinded along in stark contrast with the high-flying offensive performances we’ve grown accustomed to seeing in modern day football. Bernie Miklasz of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch put it best.
“The Rams and 49ers should have played this one on the street, or maybe on the banks of the Mississippi River. This was grown-man football. There was no letup, no surrender and no room for weakness.”
Steven knew coming into Sunday’s game that gaining ground against Justin Smith, Aldon Smith, and Patrick Willis would be no easy task. But, as always, he was up to the challenge.
“They were ranked as the No. 2 defense in the NFL, so we knew it was going to be a tough day,” he said, “We just had to keep our composure, keep balance in the offense. When they dropped into zone, we were able to take advantage of what they gave us against the run. We tried to be north and south as much as possible and grit out those tough yards.”
Still the Rams offense had trouble turning those tough yards into points. A safety finally put St Louis on the board in the second half. Later, a fumble recovered by Janoris Jenkins for a touchdown and a two point conversion knotted the Rams up with San Francisco. After the Niners retook the lead 13-10 on a David Akers field goal with 1:34 remaining, the St. Louis got it together on the ensuing drive and put rookie kicker Greg Zuerlein in position to boot a 53-yard field goal as time expired, sending the game to overtime.
Each team had two fruitless possessions in overtime, including a miss by Akers from 51 yards out with 4:11 to go that gave the Rams the ball back at their own 41. Six plays later — five of them runs by SJ39, Zuerlein crushed another 50+ yarder, connecting from 54 yards out to end the game. Afterward, Steven talked about glad he was to see the young guys—such as Jenkins and Zuerlein—stepping into their own and helping bring home the “W”.
“Our rookie kicker is pretty good,” he said. “Our rookies overall on this roster are pretty good. He’s pretty clutch, he stepped up for us pretty good in big moments when the game was in the balance. Both teams were struggling, special teams turned out to be the difference.”
After two games against the team most widely considered the best in the division— if not the entire NFC — the Rams found brilliant validation of their progress and improvement. They were able to put a nice chip in San Francisco’s otherwise impressive record, as the Niners settle to 8-3-1. Sunday’s loss was the first San Francisco has experienced since an ugly loss to the Giants back on October 13.
Defensive end Chris Long has been a core member of the Rams for five seasons. For him, being undefeated in division means something special, and he’s proud to share this season’s success with SJ39.
“Usually at this point, we’re the opposite of undefeated in the division. I feel good for ‘Jack’ (Steven Jackson) and I feel good for everybody who has come here and put in the work and bought into what Coach Fisher is doing. We rallied around each other, and hey, we’re in the thick of it.”
In an NFL season that only consists of 16 games, every game is important. This one, however, carried a little something extra.
“Let me go back to the first game against them,” Fisher said. “We played pretty well, but we had the chance to win it but we made mistakes. We made young mistakes. I think the perception was that, well, we might’ve caught them on a bad day. So, we get to start over again and find a way to beat the team to beat in our division. It’s a good feeling in the locker room.”
Steven agreed, and spoke about the importance of remaining undefeated in the division.
“It feels pretty good. We have a lot of room to grow, but the one thing that we’re learning about the personality of this team is that guys are going to continue to fight and guys are going to bring their A-game,” he said. “Despite what it looks like, despite what people may think, this group of men believes we can play at a high level.”
The Rams will keep grinding throughout their four remaining games. At 5-6-1, they still stand an outside shot at a wild card spot. Pieces would have to fall into place elsewhere in the league, as a handful of teams currently stand between them and the sixth playoff spot.
One thing remains that the Rams can control: keeping this win-streak alive down the home stretch. Contests with Buffalo, Minnesota, Tampa Bay, and Seattle all appear winnable for SJ39 and the Rams, but this is the NFL—nothing is guaranteed and that, Bernie Miklasz of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch wrote, is why the Rams will take their win however they can get them.
“It doesn’t matter that the Rams are winning ugly. It doesn’t matter that their offense was smothered for nearly four quarters of prison-yard football. Style is irrelevant. The Rams are a bit of an anomaly in the new-age NFL, a place where pretty passes spiral through the air. The Rams have gone prehistoric. They might as well be outfitted with leather helmets. Heck, even Sam Bradford got into the act by throwing his body around on two spirited scrambles that set up the tying field goal with time running out in the fourth quarter.”
If the Rams keep steamrolling forward with their old-school approach—especially with Steven at the point of attack—nobody will want to face them late in the season.
The Rams are back on the road this week as they head to Buffalo to take on the Bills (5-7) at Ralph Wilson Stadium. Kickoff is scheduled for Noon CST and the game can be seen on CBS.
- Steven Jackson Press Conference (StLouisRams.com, December 2, 2012)
- Rams ‘Finish the Fight’ (St. Louis Post-Dispatch, December 3, 2012)
- Zuerlein’s FG in Overtime Carries Rams (Belleville News, December 2, 2012)
- Rough, Physical and Worth the Pain (St Louis Post-Dispatch, December 3, 2012)
- Five Players Revisited (Turf Show Times, December 3, 2012)
- Rams Rely on One Another for Stirring Win (StLouisRams.com, December 3, 2012)
- Defense Comes up Big (StLouisRams.com, December 2, 2012)
- At Long Last: Rams Outslug 49ers (StLouisRams.com, December 2, 2012)