Through a season with plenty of ups and downs, the St. Louis Rams have fostered a “never say die” outlook that teams must have to compete in the NFL. With that attitude directing their every move, the Rams are starting to make noise in the NFC playoff picture.
On Sunday afternoon in Buffalo, the Rams trailed by five points when they got the ball back with under five minutes to go in the game. What followed was another signature moment in a season full of them.
Steven Jackson and his teammates marched down the field on a 14-play drive that soaked up most of the clock and with 48 seconds remaining Sam Bradford tossed a 13-yard touchdown pass to Brandon Gibson. That score proved to be the game winner as the Rams held on for a 15-12 victory. The win was St. Louis’ third straight, a mark the Rams hadn’t reached since 2006. The victory and the mentality that helped produce it proved beyond any doubt that the Rams have a new identity.
“We as a team have shown all season long we have a lot of fight, a lot of grit to us,” Steven said. “The identity of this team is to never quit, and today I think you saw our defense — they did did a tremendous job. But our offense made adjustments at halftime. Guys showed up and made plays when we needed them.”
SJ39 found tough sledding through the Buffalo defense for most of the day, but like the gamer he is, Steven made the big plays on the ground when they mattered the most to help his team win. He carried 19 times for 64 yards, but his third quarter touchdown plunge and drive-saving runs late were a must if the Rams wanted to come away with the much-needed win.
Halftime adjustments proved to be crucial, because Steven and the Rams offensive unit couldn’t get much going in the first half. They didn’t convert a first down until the second quarter, and the Bills defense, which hadn’t allowed more than 90 rushing yards in a contest in the previous three weeks, filled every hole that SJ39 sought. But thanks to some outstanding work by the St. Louis defense, the Rams were still close at halftime, trailing 6-0.
The second half started with a bang. Sam Bradford came out gunning, and the Rams spread the ball around to march 69 yards down field in 10 plays. From the one-yard line, the Rams knew they had to put the ball in the hands of SJ39 and let him go to work. Steven made it looks easy as he plunged in on the right side of the line for his third touchdown of the season to give the Rams a 7-6 lead.
But the Bills refused to let the Rams take control. Buffalo answered Steven’s score with a touchdown of their own on the ensuing drive, when Ryan Fitzpatrick ended a nine play, 75-yard drive by finding tight end Lee Smith in the end zone for a score with 3:26 left in the third.
After a conversion attempt failed, Buffalo held 12-7 lead heading into the final period. Following the Bills’ score, the Rams once again found themselves spinning their wheels against the underrated Bills defense. The two teams traded short drives deep into the fourth, neither team able to make up enough ground to secure the win.
“Their defensive front seven, defensive line definitely did a good job today,” he said. “We knew it was going to be tough. When you can keep a defense honest, they want to insist on taking the run away, continue to call, make plays, convert on third down, convert in big situations with the run, but to use their aggressiveness against them, when they wanted to go 1-on-1 on man coverage, our receivers took advantage of that.”
Head coach Jeff Fisher agreed with Steven’s assessment of the Bills’ defense. St. Louis knew that as long as the Bills kept packing the box, something would eventually open up in the passing game. They would just need to keep chipping away in order to open up the big play possibilities.
“We didn’t think it was going to be easy,” Fisher said. “It was tough but nobody panicked. We made some adjustments at halftime, it was a close ball game, all we had to do was make some plays.”
With under five minutes to go, the Rams got the ball at their own 16 yard line. With 84 yards of turf between them and the critical touchdown, the Rams turned to SJax to kickstart the drive. On 2nd and 10 Steven broke through the left side for nine yards before being brought down by former college teammate Nick Barnett just short of the first down marker.
That brought up a crucial 3rd and 1—with the game hanging in the balance—and the Rams once again knew they had to turn to Steven Jackson to pound the rock through for a first down. Even if it had been tough going for the Rams backfield all day, Steven had to be the one to carry them over when it counted. SJ39 answered the call, bursting through the Buffalo defense for not one yard, but seven, to move the chains and rile up his teammates.
S-Jax’s two runs kept the Rams alive and Sam Bradford made the necessary throws to continue the drive, ultimately finding Gibson cutting deep in the end zone for the 13-yard go-ahead touchdown with less than a minute left. The come-from-behind win was a complete team effort for the Rams. Steven was proud to see some of the young receivers step up in the absence of the injured Danny Amendola.
“I saw one of the acrobatic catches that Gibby (Brandon Gibson) made. And I believe Pettis came through on a big-time third down for us,” SJ said. “I saw a little bit of it on the check down, and as you go through the play, there were just some acrobatic catches being made.”
Steven especially noticed the growth in Gibson, who the Rams traded for last season from the Philadelphia Eagles. Last season, Gibson played in 15 games for the Rams and hauled in 36 catches for 431 yards and a touchdown. This season, through 13 games, Gibson has 40 grabs for 537 yards and Sunday’s 13-yard scoring catch marked his fifth touchdown of the season.
“This season alone is huge for Gibby. When you have a guy to continue to grow each year, I think we’ve seen that,” No. 39 said. “We’ve seen Gibby grow. This is a huge year for him and I’m happy for him. He’s shown up in big times.”
Also showing up in big times has been Rams quarterback Sam Bradford. The St. Louis signal caller had a mostly quiet day in Buffalo, but stepped up to complete 5-of-11 passes on the game-winning drive for a total of 68 yards. Over the past three weeks, Bradford has completed 53-of-95 passes for 635 yards and three touchdowns to help the Rams to three straight wins. Steven knew exactly what the difference was in being able to put together a game-winning drive late.
“Sam has made some wise decisions in the fourth quarter. He has gone out on the field with a ton of confidence. He exudes it,” Steven said. “He trusts his receivers to make plays and he’s definitely growing and being patient. At some point somebody’s going to want to make the play. And Sam took advantage of that, and our receivers got open when they needed to.”
In a league where wins and losses often come down to seconds and inches, Steven recognizes both the individual efforts and the teamwork that go into a winning organization. Steven and the Rams have showed there is no quit when it comes to their team. They can be knocked down, but they will get right back up and continue the fight.
“This team is definitely showing growth and maturity,” SJ39 said. “We knew that each and every game in the NFL comes down to four quarters. We [have to] be a difference maker, we [have to] show up in times—somebody has to step up and make plays. I think you saw in that fourth quarter, especially that last drive, different individuals—it wasn’t just one person—different individuals showed up and made plays.”
Today, the Rams are a long way from where they were after the November 18 loss to the Jets. From hopeless at 3-6-1 to sporting playoff potential at 6-6-1, the team’s maturity, cohesion and attributed success couldn’t be coming at a better time. With three games remaining, Steven is only 164 yards shy of the 1,000 yard mark for the season and 71 yards from breaking the 10,000 yard career mark. But to be playing with playoff potential into December means more than anything individual statistical accomplishment.
“At this point in December to have some meaningful games, to have guys collectively as a team—quarterbacks stepping up, receivers stepping up, defense, special teams, we had some big time punts in situations to win the field position—guys on this team are stepping up and doing it at a time when we need it.”
In order to keep their playoff hopes alive, the Rams must keep winning and the team that comes to town next stands directly in their path.
The Minnesota Vikings, who visit Edward Jones Dome on Sunday, are one of three teams that stand a half game better than the Rams in the postseason picture at 7-6. A win over Minnesota would bring the Rams over .500 and guarantee that they leapfrog at least one of the four teams in front of them for the coveted final Wild Card playoff spot. A loss would almost certainly end their playoff hopes.
So Steven and the Rams will be in a fight to keep their hopes alive against the Vikings. Minnesota is coming off a telling win against the Chicago Bears, and the Rams will need some homefield magic in their last game at the Dome this season.
Kickoff from Edward Jones Dome is scheduled for Noon CST and the game can be seen on FOX.
- Bradford leads Rams to 15-12 win over Bills (Yahoo Sports, December 9, 2012)
- Rams are clutch when it counts (St. Louis Post-Dispatch, December 10, 2012)
- Keys to the game answered (StLouisRams.com, December 9, 2012)
- In need of big plays, Rams find a way (StLouisRams.com, December 9, 2012)
- Steven Jackson Press Conference (StLouisRams.com, December 9, 2012)
- NFL Playoff scenarios (Turf Show Times, December 10, 2012)