The long wait for a postseason opportunity finally ends on Saturday for Steven Jackson.
Nearly 11 years to the day of his last playoff game, as a St. Louis Rams rookie on January 15, 2006, SJ39 will take the field in the postseason once more, as a member of the New England Patriots as they host the Kansas City Chiefs in an AFC Divisional Round playoff game.
Steven joined the Patriots less than a month ago as the Patriots looked to combat the myriad injuries throughout the season to their running back group. Since then, SJ has taken on the challenge of trying to get assimilated to the New England offense with just a few weeks, and a few game snaps, to prepare for his first meaningful game action in mid-January in more than a decade.
But after waiting patiently for this opportunity over the course of an illustrious career, he believes he is more than ready to take on the task at hand.
"It's a long time coming for me, personally," Steven said this week. "The last two or three weeks have been a whirlwind once again, but I think getting ready for this week and realizing the opportunity ahead of me, it's one that I want to be well-prepared for and now take advantage of."
The challenge will be especially difficult on Saturday, as the Patriots offense is faced with a Chiefs defense that boasts one of the best run-stopping defenses in the NFL. The red-hot Kansas City club has won 11 consecutive games dating back to October, led by their stingy Top 10 defense. The Chiefs only allowed 4.1 yards-per-rush for the season and ranked eighth in the league in terms of total rushing yards allowed. They also conceded just seven rushing touchdowns all year, which ranked third in the league.
But there are some cracks in the armor of the Kansas City defense and although they have been formidable against the run this season, there are holes to be made. Last week in the KC's 30-0 Wild Card round win in Houston, Texans reserve running back Alfred Blue was able to power through for 99 yards on 17 carries, a productive game for the back, despite his team's fate. That gives the Pats some hope they can run the ball against the Chiefs this Saturday.
One thing that should open things up even more for the Patriots running game will be the return of quarterback Tom Brady's full complement of targets in the passing game. Wide receiver Julian Edelman will make his long-awaited return from a broken foot and though tight end Rob Gronkowski was limited in practice this week, he too will play on Saturday against Kansas City.
Meanwhile, Steven, Brandon Bolden and James White are New England's only healthy running backs going into the game, so SJ39 will likely continue to serve as the power-back for New England, with Bolden getting a chunk of carries too and White serving as the primary pass-catching back. Steven saw action in two games for the Patriots before the completion of the regular season. He had seven carries for 15 yards in New England's Week 16 game against the Jets, then in the Patriots' regular season finale against the Miami Dolphins, SJ led the way with 14 carries while Bolden was second with nine.
To get ready for what is expected to be an increased role in the postseason, Steven has been working hard at learning the Patriots system and says it has been going well to this point. He explained that he has been getting more comfortable each day with the terminology and that the Patriots staff has been helpful in facilitating the process.
"At this point, I do feel comfortable with the language and the offense, and I trust that the coaching staff won't put me in a position where they don't think I can execute a job,"he said.
Steven's sentiment echoes New England's well known "Do Your Job"mantra, which the Patriots use as a part of their next man up philosophy that head coach Bill Belichick has instilled into the organization. The mindset is viewed as one of the key cogs to the team's success and S-Jax is already starting to catch on as he goes through his attentive preparation for game day.
This particular game day presents an opportunity Steven has waited for since his rookie season with he St. Louis Rams and he is anxious to get on the field and get a taste of playoff action as the Patriots begin the hunt for a fifth Super Bowl. That's why, regardless of his role in the always unpredictable New England backfield this Saturday, Jackson is marinating in focus and ready to do his job.
"I know I don't have the most playoff experience around here, but the game of football comes down to being able to execute, do your job, and being able to do that [starts] with a great week of preparation,"Steven explained. "I've always prided myself on that. The stakes are high, if you don't win you go home, but at the end of the day you have to be able to play relaxed and loose, and that's what I'm going in thinking Saturday."
Kickoff from Gillette Stadium in Foxboro, Massachusetts is slated for 4:30 p.m. ET and the game can be seen nationwide on CBS.