They led three different times on Sunday and with two minutes remaining in their game with the Detroit Lions at Ford Field, Steven Jackson and the St. Louis Rams were in control with a golden opportunity to start the season on a high note.
But one late drive by Detroit broke all the momentum the Rams had built. The Lions completed an 80-yard drive and scored the game-winning touchdown with just 10 seconds left to defeat the Rams 27-23 in the NFL season opener.
“It’s tough,” Steven told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. “You definitely want to open up the season hopefully with a victory, especially on the road. We knew they were going to be a tough opponent coming off a playoff season last year. For us to have the lead the majority of the game and lose it at the end, it hurts.”
S-Jax carried 21 times against the Lions, but found few holes to run through in Detroit’s fierce front four and gained 53 yards on the ground. No. 39 had more success through the passing game and caught four passes from Sam Bradford, gaining 31 yards receiving for a total of 84 yards of offense.
“It was tough sledding, but it’s been the state of my career,” Steven said after the game. “And I don’t think it’s going to change.”
The Rams opened the game very well and led at the end of the first quarter thanks to a ballhawking rookie corner, a sustained offensive drive and the big boot of rookie kicker Greg Zuerlein.
Detroit began the contest with the ball and went right down the field into the red zone. But the game took it’s first twist on first and goal from the three when Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford was intercepted by Rams rookie corner Janoris Jenkins. Jenkins returned the pick to the Detroit 34, where St. Louis set up on offense. The Rams followed with a long drive that featured four carries for nine yards and a catch for 12 yards from SJ39.
However, two big penalties — an early holding call and a late unnecessary roughness penalty — pushed St. Louis back and even a 17-yard gain on third down by Danny Amendola couldn’t pick up the first. The Rams settled instead for a 48-yard Zuerlein field goal to take the lead.
Detroit answered with another long drive capped by a Joique Bell touchdown run to take the lead, 7-3. After a Rams three-and-out, Detroit got the ball back looking to take control, but Stafford was again intercepted and Jo-Lonn Dunbar returned the INT 42 yards, setting St. Louis up on Detroit’s side of the field.
From there, the Rams put together another sustained drive with designs on taking the lead. St. Louis’ second drive spanned eight plays and ate up four and-half-minutes of the clock. On that drive Steven gained 27 yards on three carries and two catches.
“We’re going to try to pound the ball,” Bradford said. “That’s what we’re going to do. We’re going to run it at people. We’re going to be a physical team. We’re going to grind out those run yards.”
That ground-and-pound style got the Rams all the way down to the Detroit six-yard-line, but on 3rd & 5 from the 6, Bradford was sacked for a five-yard loss. St. Louis settled again for a Zuerlein field goal that cut their deficit to one.
With just 2:35 left in the half, Detroit got the ball back looking to extend its lead with a quick drive. But three plays into that Lions possession, Stafford was picked for the third time in four drives as Cortland Finnegan nabbed an errant pass and returned it 31 yards for a touchdown to give the Rams a 13-7 lead.
The Lions regrouped to put three on the board in the final 90 seconds of the half thanks to a 41-yard Jason Hanson field goal, but the Rams left the field feeling good and took a 13-10 lead into the locker room.
Detroit tied the game early in the second half on another Hanson field goal and it remained even going into the fourth. The Rams defense buckled down and forced three consecutive punts giving St. Louis the advantage in the field position battle.
The third of those three punts put them in business at the Lions 47 with 12:27 left in the game. Five plays later, the Rams were in the end zone as Bradford connected with Brandon Gibson on a 23-yard touchdown pass to put St. Louis in front 20-13 with 9:45 to go.
But the Lions answered with a five-play scoring drive of their own, moving the ball 80 yards over those five snaps. Kevin Smith finished the drive with a five-yard touchdown run and the game was tied with 7:19 to go.
St. Louis got back to it from their own 20 and started eating clock as they drove down the field. The attack was balanced through the first 10 plays with five SJ39 runs and five Bradford passes. In the process, they moved the ball 50 yards and took nearly five minutes off the clock.
“It showed that guys are gutting out, guys are winning some individual battles and we were able to move the ball down the field,” Steven said. “Of course we’d love to punch it into the end zone.”
Instead, St. Louis couldn’t convert on 3rd & 9 from the Detroit 28 and settled for a 46-yard field goal to take a 23-20 lead with 1:55 to go. Detroit made them regret that missed opportunity for six and answered with a nine-play, 80-yard drive that took all but 10 seconds of the time remaining. It culminated in a five-yard TD pass from Stafford to Smith. The Rams’ last ditch effort to score on a lateral play failed and they lost 27-23.
But after playing most of the game with the lead, on the road, against a team that made the playoffs last season, the Rams refused to hang their heads. Instead they looked forward to the rest of the season and more opportunities to get better and turn these heartbreakers that have become all too common into victories.
“We have something to build off of and some things that we can look at the film and improve on,” Steven said. “We have a foundation, as you can see. Our defense and our offense, even the special teams, guys are willing to fight to the end. These are the type of games we’re going to find a way to win.”
During perhaps their biggest offensive play of the game — Bradford’s 23-yard touchdown pass to Gibson — the Rams’ excitement was immediately tempered by a scary incident.
Left tackle Rodger Saffold injured his neck on the play and was down on the field for several minutes. Saffold had to be immobilized, was carted off the field on a stretcher and taken to a Detroit hospital. After a CT scan, he was diagnosed with a sprained neck. Following the game, Steven sent his best wishes to one of his lead blockers.
“You just pray that he’s going to be ok,” Steven said. “Whatever the situation is going to be [you hope] that he has a speedy recovery and we’re able to get him back home.”
The Rams will spend the week learning from their own mistakes as they prepare for their first home game of the 2012 season next Sunday against the Washington Resdkins
Washington was a 40-32 winner in their opener behind the impressive debut of rookie quarterback Robert Griffin III. But Washington’s 32 points allowed were the most by any team that won on Sunday and only five losing teams allowed more points than the Redskins did.
The last time the two teams met — in Week 4 of last season — the Redskins defeated the Rams 17-10 at the Edward Jones Dome. Steven was limited to 45 rushing yards on just 17 carries, but did score a late touchdown on a 15-yard touchdown pass from Bradford.
Sunday’s kickoff is slated for 3:05 p.m. CDT and the game can be seen live on FOX.
- RB Steven Jackson Press Conference (StLouisRams.com, September 9, 2012)
- Rams come up just short (StLouisRams.com, September 9, 2012)
- Rams were one play away (St. Louis Post-Dispatch, September 9, 2012)
- Same old sorry Rams? Not even close (St. Louis Post-Dispatch, September 9, 2012)
- Wrap-up: Lions 27, Rams 23 (ESPN.com, September 9, 2012)
- St. Louis Competitive, But Not Enough In Late Loss (Turf Show Times, September 9, 2012)
- Steven Jackson finds tough going (St. Louis Post-Dispatch, September 9, 2012)
- Grading Out The Offense And Defense (Ramblin’ Fan, September 9, 2012)
- Rams Report Card (St. Louis Post-Dispatch, September 9, 2012)