Steven Jackson passed one more significant milestone on Sunday as he and the Rams closed No. 39’s ninth NFL season, but it wasn’t enough to push St. Louis to the first winning season since he joined the franchise.
SJ39 put in the hard work, earning 52 yards on 11 carries to become just the sixth player in NFL history to rush for 1,000 yards in eight consecutive seasons. In addition, he caught seven passes for 45 yards, but a late touchdown pass by rookie Russell Wilson pushed the playoff-bound Seattle Seahawks to a 20-13 win over Rams at CenturyLink Field.
Even with the loss, Steven and the Rams left Seattle with heads held high, able to look back at a season defined by a momentous turnaround. The Rams finished 7-8-1 and lost only one NFC West contest just a year after going 2-14.
SJ and his teammates earned respect as the year went along, and very nearly knocked off one of the NFL’s hottest teams at their imposing home field. After the game, Steven acknowledged the bittersweet outcome of losing the final game of the season while at the same time showing immense improvement and bright hope for the future.
“It’s a little disappointing but this game doesn’t define what we accomplished this year,” he said. “I think the first eight games of this season you saw a young team, a team learning how to win on the road, a team trying to find their identity. Second eight games of the season, you saw a team mature, young guys stepped up and made plays, the continuity of the team continued to grow week-in and week out. We started learning how to pull out tough games and winning on the road. The way we finished this season the second half of the season is something to be very proud of and something we can build off of.”
Steven entered the final game needing just 10 yards to reach the 1,000-yard plateau. Midway through the second quarter, S-Jax found a gaping hole in the line and churned out a solid 14-yard gain. That run put the Rams on the Seahawks side of the field for the first time all afternoon.
With his eighth straight 1,000-yard season, SJ39 joins elite company. Only Barry Sanders, Emmitt Smith, LaDainian Tomlinson, Curtis Martin, and Thurman Thomas were able to post the same brand of consistent numbers through at least eight seasons. Four of those five men are enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio. The only one who isn’t, Tomlinson, is well on his way once eligible. SJ said to be mentioned in the same sentence as those greats is an honor in itself.
“I’ve just been blessed to play at a high level for a long time in this league. I’ve always set out to be consistent and to be a tough runner. Being able to do that now since I’ve been a starter means a lot. That group I joined today, I’m fans of all those guys. I really appreciate what they’ve done for the position and I try to carry the torch of being a franchise running back.”
After the game, Steven was asked to assess the run on which he hit the lofty plateau and he revealed that it was a broken play that opened up ta gap gor him to run through.
“Actually the play was a mistake made by our offensive personnel, but it might turn into a new play next year for us,” he grinned. “The split from in the backfield opened a major crease in their defense and allowed me to gash for 14 yards. Someone went the wrong way but it worked out.”
Steven’s big gain gave the Rams momentum in their drive, and culminated in a Sam Bradford touchdown pass to Austin Pettis. The touchdown put the Rams ahead, 7-3, a lead they took into halftime.
Over the course of his career, SJ39 has cemented his place among the elite running backs in NFL history, the textbook definition of power and consistency. Steven has brought old school toughness to the modern running back position, while emerging as one of the key leaders in the Rams locker room.
“You can’t say enough about ‘Jack’ — what he means to this football team,” Bradford said. “What he does on the field, in the locker room, off the field, he is so valuable to this team and this organization. For him to become only the sixth guy in history to do that, it just tells you what type of player he is.”
As the season went on, Steven once again emerged as the go-to guy on the St. Louis offense. With Steven’s ability to gain yardage in chunks, opposing defenses were forced to adjust accordingly. This opened up a series of successful play-action passes that became Bradford’s calling card. Bradford took advantage of Seattle selling out to stop the run on Sunday by completing 60 percent of his passes (25-of-42) for 252 yards.
The success of the passing game put the Rams in position for field goals on their first two drives of the second half. The first made it 10-6 Rams and the second followed a Seattle touchdown to tie the game at 13. The teams traded punts on their next possessions in the fourth, but when Seattle got the ball with 5:11 left, they put the game away by driving 90 yards in 10 plays for a score. The Rams had one last chance, but Bradford was intercepted with 33 seconds left to end it.
Still the Rams returned home to clean out their lockers on Monday feeling positive about what they had accomplished in 2012. Against Seattle, who the Rams beat 19-13 back in September, St. Louis showed tough resolve, and a reason to believe in the future.
The Rams gave the Seahawks a tough fight a week before the playoffs, one that the Seattle side believes will help them prepare for the playoffs. Even in a loss, the Rams are in a far better position as a team than they were a year ago.
“It would be wrong to not recognize that they are a very good football team,” Seattle head coach Pete Carroll said after the game. “They played hard and tough, and they were playing to win this game. I know they wanted a winning season. They played like it, and I’ll give them a lot of credit. They’ve won a lot of games lately, and you can tell why. It speaks to the division; it’s so darn tough.”
At the outset of Steven’s ninth NFL season, Rams fans—and even the Rams themselves—were not really sure what to expect. The St. Louis roster was the youngest in the league and Jeff Fisher was entering his first season at the head coaching position.
Fisher often relied on Steven, as well as the other Rams vets, to help the younger guys mature and grow as professional athletes. SJ’s wisdom and experience did not disappoint. The Rams came together as a team, finishing with a far better record than most expected.
”I don’t think many people gave us an opportunity,” Fisher said. “I don’t think many people thought this game would be close, except us. I’m very, very proud of the professional approach that the guys took, not only all year, but this year in preparation and understanding that this is a difficult place to play, understanding what we needed to do to win the game.”
After the game Steven looked back on the different measures of success he’s seen as a member of the Rams. He was asked if this is the best he has ever felt about the Rams at the conclusion of a season and while SJ wasn’t ready to assume St. Louis is in its best spot since he arrived, there is one thing that gives him confidence in what’s ahead.
“I’ve been a part of some teams that we thought were going to turn the tide, but this is the best I’ve felt about a head coach,” he said. “I have a lot of great respect and a lot of confidence in Coach Fisher.”
Rest assured, the confidence is mutual. With no games remaining on the Rams calendar, Steven can begin to assess both the past and the future as he weighs out his options in free agency. Forever loyal and team-focused, Steven admitted it would be very difficult to leave a team he has helped build up.
“I would hate to watch this organization go on and be successful, which I think they will, without me. I want to be a part of that.”
The time to make those decisions will come. For now, Steven can look back with fond memories and a strong 2012 season. The imprint Steven left on this season will not be forgotten.
On the field, SJ39 eclipsed the 10,000-yard career mark and broke through 1,000 yards for the eighth consecutive season. Off the gridiron he celebrated NFL football abroad as an ambassador of the game in London and helped lead a young team on the way to bigger and better successes, and once again defined what it means to be a St. Louis Ram.
- Seattle too much for Rams in season finale (Fox Sports, December 30, 2012)
- Wilson’s TD Beats Rams 20-13 (St. Louis Post-Dispatch, December 30, 2012)
- Rams Are Done but not Down (St. Louis Post-Dispatch, December 31, 2012)
- Rapid Reaction: Seahawks 20, Rams 13 (ESPN, December 30, 2012)
- Rams fight to the finish (StLouisRams.com, December 30, 2012)
- SJ39 Sunday Press Conference (StLouisRams.com, December 30, 2012) SJ39 Monday Press Conference (StLouisRams.com, December 31, 2012)