Steven Jackson has waited all season for another shot in an NFL backfield, and this week, the perfect opportunity arose: SJ39 is now a member of the New England Patriots.
Steven hinted at his return Monday on social media, and after the Patriots officially announced the signing on Tuesday, he joined his new team at practice for the first time on Tuesday afternoon. SJ then met with the Boston media for the first time on Wednesday, and told the assembled press corps that his arrival in New England is a Christmas wish come true.
"It's exciting, couldn't ask for a better Christmas gift," Steven said. "Just looking forward to continuing to get better and continuing to learn the way of the Patriots."
Up until the moment he recieved a call from the Patriots last week to come in for a tryout, it had been a pretty quiet 2015 for Steven. After finishing off his second season in Atlanta, he was released prior to the final year of his contract and went into the offseason seeking an opportunity to play for a contender that never came.
As training camp came and went, and the season began S-Jax was left to wonder if he'd ever get to suit up in the NFL again. He admitted to the Boston media on Wednesday that it hasn't been easy to remain positive while watching the season go by for 15 weeks. But his faith kept him going.
"Initially, I did," SJ answered when asked if he had doubts about getting another opportunity. "But I have a mom with strong faith and she continues to instill that in me."
Now that he is in New England, the quest for his first Super Bowl begins. The Patriots have already clinched a spot in the playoffs, and they'll take on the Jets this week, looking to keep ahold of the No. 1 seed in the AFC. With two weeks to go, they currently sit at 12-2, one game ahead of the 11-3 Cincinnati Bengals.
Despite their dominance this season, running back has become a major position of need for New England over the last several weeks. After strong starts, running backs Dion Lewis and LeGarrette Blount both landed on injured reserve. Blount's injury, suffered in a Week 14 win over Houston, left the Patriots with just Brandon Bolden, James White and practice squad call-up Joey Iosefa on their running back depth chart.
The Pats did add former Broncos running back Montee Ball to the practice squad last week. However, after watching Steven work out last week and watching their running back committee combine for just 93 yards on the ground against a Tennessee Titans defense that ranks in the bottom half of the league against the run, New England made the move to add SJ39 to the mix.
Ball was originally granted No. 39 when the Pats signed him last week, but when he arrived to practice on Tuesday, the No. 31 hung in his locker. Ball, who went to high school just outside of St. Louis, didn't mind.
"Even if he would have asked for 39, I would have given it to him because I have so much respect for that man," Ball said of SJ. "I was talking to him today and telling him that when I was little, he was the first person I ever got an autograph from. I'm from right outside St. Louis and he was with the Rams. I went to one of the Rams camps when I was young — 11, 12 years old, 13 — and he was there. It's funny how everything comes full circle. All my extended family were St. Louis fans, so I've seen a lot of Jackson jerseys around my house. It's crazy now that we're on the same team, in he same running back room. It's a blessing."
Ball also said that he was taken aback when the 6'2", 240-pound Jackson walked into the locker room.
"When he walked in the door, I was like 'Wow, that's a big running back.' He looks like a d-end playing running back," he said. "Tip of the hat to him, man, to keep pushing through and battling and staying with it."
No. 39 Steven Jackson warms up at Patriots walk through Tuesday at field house. pic.twitter.com/W3B9BkPjJI
— Mike Petraglia (@Trags) December 22, 2015
Steven Jackson on finally joining Patriots, Bill Belichick "couldn't ask for a better Christmas present" pic.twitter.com/L9l1iq8WxG
— Mike Petraglia (@Trags) December 23, 2015
Steven Jackson a popular guy in the Patriots locker room today. Says the team was already good. Just wanted depth. pic.twitter.com/6LBVwQXpTo
— Phil Perry (@PhilAPerry) December 23, 2015
Photo: RB Steven Jackson says he couldn't have received a better Christmas gift. pic.twitter.com/MOmUohG59U
— Mike Reiss (@MikeReiss) December 23, 2015
ON TO THE JETS
Now, it's down to business. Steven stepped out onto the Patriots' practice field Tuesday wearing his No. 39 jersey. And he immediately went to work to prepare for Sunday's matchup with the New York Jets.
"We're getting ready for the Jets," he said. "The game plan is what it is. I have to get into it as fast as possible and learn the offense. Whenever the coach calls my number, be ready to execute like any other guy in the backfield."
Fortunately, Steven isn't starting completely from scratch on his new team. SJ39 played under Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels while the coach was with the St. Louis Rams in 2011. New England head coach Bill Belichick said that experience should help Steven in the transition, but the four-time Super Bowl champion coach also added that No. 39 will still have to prove his worth to the Patriots on the field.
"Josh was with him in St. Louis, so that's much more of a factor in our offense, as an NFL player," Belichick said. "I don't think there's any question about Jackson's intelligence, work ethic, character, anything. He's a great player. Where is he now? I don't know."
McDaniels isn't Steven's only St. Louis connection in Boston. When he joined the Pats in practice Tuesday, he took some extra time to chat with former Rams teammate Danny Amendola. Last week, the receiver was asked about Steven potentially joining the fold in New England, and he was excited about the idea.
"(Steven is) a great player," Amendola said. "He's a very physical back. He's smart. He's a veteran. He's a good teammate. He's physical. He's smart. I loved playing with him."
Jets head coach Todd Bowles knows just how significant Steven's presence could be in the New England backfield. In 2014, when Steven was in Atlanta and Bowles was the defensive coordinator for the Arizona Cardinals, SJ39 gouged Bowles' defense for 101 yards in a 29-18 victory.
"He's been a great player. I went up against him in Atlanta. He had some great games against us when he went up against us in several different stops that I've had," Bowles said. "I know he's a good running back. They have a bunch of good players. They're very good at picking the right type of veterans then plugging and playing them. And they do well in the system."
It remains to be seen how the Patriots will split carries and snaps between Steven, Bolden, White and Iosefa.
Lewis tallied 234 rushing yards before his injury, but he was even more lethal in the passing game, where he logged 388 yards and two scores. White has primarily filled that role. He has rushed for just 47 yards, but he has 319 yards through the air and three touchdowns.
SJ39 could be relied upon to fill the void left by Blount. A power rusher with a similar bruising build, Blount registered 703 yards and six scores before going down. Last week, Bolden and Iosefa combined to split that role. Bolden turned in 36 yards on 10 carries, while Iosefa had 14 carries for 51 yards. It was Iosefa who took over late in the game to kill the clock in the team's 33-16 win over the Tennessee Titans.
No matter what workload Steven earns in Week 16 and beyond, he just wants to do whatever he can to help the Pats defend their throne, and to add a ring to his own resume.
"This team, they're already a championship team," Steven said. "They just needed some depth to the chart and I'm just coming here to be the best running back for the organization I can be."
Steven will make his Patriots debut at 1 p.m. ET on Sunday at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J. The game will air on CBS.
- Jackson takes part in first Patriots practice (New England Patriots, Dec. 22, 2015)
- Inside story of how Steven Jackson was given No. 39 with Patriots (ESPN, Dec. 22, 2015)
- Bill Belichick cautious on what to expect from Steven Jackson (Boston Herald, Dec. 22, 2015)
- Belichick: Steven Jackson already has experience in Patriots offense (NESN, Dec. 23, 2015)
- Patriots notebook: Steven Jackson in the running (Boston Herald, Dec. 23, 2015)
- Bill Belichick not sure what to expect from Steven Jackson (Boston Globe, Dec. 23, 2015)
- Steven Jackson should be good fit for Patriots (ESPN, Dec. 21, 2015)
- Steven Jackson: Couldn't have asked for better Christmas gift (ESPN, Dec. 23, 2015)
- Kay Adams: Steven Jackson brings more than just depth to Patriots (CSNNE, Dec. 22, 2015)
- Danny Amendola loved playing with Steven Jackson: He's ‘A good teammate' (NESN, Dec. 16, 2015)
- Jackson participates in first Patriots practice (CSNNE, Dec. 22, 2015)
- News blitz: Steven Jackson is a Patriot (New England Patriots, Dec. 22, 2015)
- Presser points: Steven Jackson is good, candy canes are not (New England Patriots, Dec. 23, 2015)
- Steven Jackson gets his perfect ‘Christmas gift," turns focus to learning ‘way of the Patriots' (WEEI, Dec. 23, 2015)