With their season on the line, the Rams have leaned heavily on Steven Jackson over the last three weeks and the results have been outstanding.
On Sunday, Steven's blend of ground and pound pushed the Rams to a victory in Cleveland's Dawg Pound.
"He's running possessed," Rams quarterback Sam Bradford said. "He's been huge for us over these last three games."
SJ39 logged his third straight game of 100 more yards on the ground, rushing for 128 yards as the Rams picked up their second win with a 13-12 victory over the Browns in Cleveland.
"I look forward to Sunday," Steven said. "I look forward to taking over. I am a man possessed on Sunday. I think that's the way you should play."
No. 39 came out of the tunnel hungry on Sunday and went to work immediately on the Rams' first possession, carrying three times for 12 yards. Though the Rams were forced to punt on that opening drive, it wouldn't be long before they found the end zone.
After a Browns field goal put the home team up by three with just under five minutes to go in the first quarter, St. Louis put together a 10-play 69-yard drive to answer with seven. On the scoring march, Steven ran the ball four times for 18 yards and also caught a screen pass, which he took across midfield for 11 yards and a Rams first down.
"At times when we've struggled to get things going in the air, he's stepped up and made some nice runs to keep drives going," Bradford said. "Anytime we can get him going, I feel like it helps our offense."
The next two offensive series' for the Rams went quickly and quietly while Cleveland kicked a second field goal to cut into the St. Louis lead. But on the final Rams drive of the first half, S-Jax put the team on his back so they could get more points on the board before the break.
The possession started with three straight handoffs to No. 39. The first two gained 10 yards and a first down, but it was the third touch that put the Rams in scoring range.
SJ39 took the handoff and burst through a hole between the center and right guard. At the second level, linebacker D'Qwell Jackson, one of the NFL's leading tacklers, found out why Steven is considered one of the most powerful runners in the game. SJ lowered his shoulder and bounced off Jackson while simultaneously avoiding the wrap of Sheldon Brown. After evading the two tacklers, No. 39 bounced out toward the right sideline, gaining 17 more yards to the Cleveland 15.
"Stopping him is a big job," Browns defensive tackle Ahtyba Rubin said. "He's huge, and he's a great downhill runner."
Steven finished the drive with five carries for 36 yards and St. Louis settled for a Josh Brown field goal. S-Jax credited his offensive coordinator for putting him in a position to be successful.
"Josh [McDaniels] does a good job of putting guys in favorable placements for the run," Steven said. "If the defense is taking away a certain road or loading up the box, you try to back them off with the play calling and then continue to come back to me. It allows me to get to the outside, it allows me to get downhill and he actually listens to me as the game goes on and I tell him what I see and how I'm feeling. He's taking advantage of my insight too."
The drive gave the Rams a brief spurt of momentum, but the Browns put together a quick drive of their own and kicked a field goal as time expired to cut the St. Louis lead back to one point, 10-9. SJ39 finished the first half with 71 yards on just 13 carries along with his catch for 11 yards.
The Rams opened the second half with the ball and moved swiftly down the field.
On the second play of the second half, Steven found a tiny hole between the guard and tackle and punched through it to the second level. He shrugged another defender at the 28-yard line and got the first down before being wrestled down at the 32 for a gain of 17.
"He's running with a lot of emotion," said Browns coach Pat Shurmur, the former St. Louis offensive coordinator, "which I'm used to seeing."
SJ39 gained five more yards on the ground during the drive and helped the Rams push into Cleveland territory again. But on 2nd & 6 from the Cleveland 35, Steven did something he never does. Bradford hit No. 39 on a slant over the middle, which he hauled in for five yards to the 30. But as he was hit by a pair of defenders, SJ lost control of the ball and the Browns recovered. It was No.39's first fumble lost in 150 touches this season and just the 15th of his eight-year career, spanning more than 2,000 carries and nearly 350 catches.
The Rams defense picked Steven up after the fumble, forcing a punt. But St. Louis went three and out on their next drive and the Browns capitalized. Cleveland turned in a 10-play, 68-yard drive capped by a Phil Dawson field goal to take a 12-10 lead at the close of the third.
St. Louis opened the fourth with a fruitless drive and the teams traded punts. But after a third consecutive three and out for the offense, the Rams caught a break. Donnie Jones booted a punt that Cleveland's Josh Cribbs fielded cleanly at the 16. But as Cribbs went to make his move for a return, the ball was knocked loose by David Nixon and recovered by Ben Leber.
With a short field, the Rams turned to SJ and he continued to wear out the Cleveland defense, pounding out 11 yards on three carries to move the Rams into better field goal range. That allowed Brown to nail a 34-yarder and give St. Louis a 13-12 lead with 7:47 remaining.
The Browns had one last chance and moved the ball all the way to the Rams four, but a bad snap on the Dawson field goal attempt forced the kicker to pull the try wide left. S-Jax was happy to accept the stroke of good luck for St. Louis.
"Sometimes with luck, you just have to position yourself right to have it," Steven said. "It's great that something like that just doesn't happen to us. "I'm happy to see that kind of bad luck actually happens to other teams not just the St. Louis Rams."
The Rams needed just one first down to finish the game and an amped up Steven was more than happy to provide it. He picked up six yards on first down and five more on the next play to move the sticks, allowing the Rams to kneel out a 13-12 victory.
"This is the type of the game that a big back that's hungry, a big back that expects a lot out of himself; he enjoys," Jackson said. "So whatever the situation is, whatever it calls for, if it's to pick up blitz, I'll do that but anytime I get to wear a defense down and continue to allow my will to take over I definitely thrive in that area."
Steven finished with 144 yards from scrimmage on 29 touches and logged his third straight 100-yard rushing day. It marks the fourth time in his career he's rushed for at least 100 in three straight. He has now hit 100 yards on the ground 30 times in his eight-year career, second in Rams history behind Eric Dickerson (38).
With his 128 rushing yards on Sunday, Steven also leapfrogged Jim Taylor and Terry Allen to move into 32nd on the NFL's all-time rushing list.
"Real proud of Steven," Rams coach Steve Spagnuolo said. "We need him. I think Josh did a good job to continue to feed it to him and that certainly helped us win the football game."
The injury bug hit the Rams hard again on Sunday as they lost five key players to various ailments during Sunday's game.
The most relevant to SJ39's status was the loss of backup running back Cadillac Williams to an apparent calf injury early in the game. That left Steven to carry the load for the rest of the game, but he didn't mind and he doesn't mind doing so going forward either.
"It's unfortunate," Jackson said. "Things like that happen. It puts me back in the comfortable role of being the bellcow. Hopefully Cadillac will be back as soon as possible but I am definitely comfortable being the primary back, the guy that gets a ton of carries. I train for that. I look forward to that and until he's back that's the role I will be in."
In addition to Williams, the Rams lost cornerback Al Harris and tight end Michael Hoomanawanui to knee injuries, tackle Roger Saffold to a head injury and safety Darian Stewart to a neck injury. But the other St. Louis players stepped up and Steven has made it clear to everyone in the locker room how important it is to pick up your teammates.
"We continue to fight through," Jackson said. "Guys keep going down, and we have the young guys and new guys who weren't on the depth chart at the beginning of the season come to fill the holes. They have to come in and play right away. But we are making progress and are continuing to fight. I think the theme for the rest of the season is going to be to continue to fight."
That fight continues next week on the Rams' home turf at the Edward Jones Dome where they host the Seattle Seahawks. Kickoff is scheduled for 3:05 CST and the game can be seen on FOX.