Steven Jackson has always been willing to do whatever it takes to help his team win.
On Sunday, that meant lining up at receiver for most of the day as the Rams often went with an empty backfield against the run defense of the Seattle Seahawks.
SJ39 caught three passes for 19 yards and rushed 15 times for 42 yards, but the Rams couldn't move the ball effectively against Seattle and dropped their eighth game of the year, 24-7.
"It's frustrating," Steven said of the loss. "As an offense, we just couldn't get in a rhythm. We knew they were pretty good against the run...we just didn't play well."
The spread strategy worked well for the Rams in the early going as they drove into Seattle territory on an opening drive that included a catch for nine yards by No. 39. The drive stalled near midfield, but it did allow the Rams to pin the Seahawks deep in their own territory with a punt.
That field position paid off three plays into the ensuing drive when Seattle quarterback Tavaris Jackson was intercepted by Quintin Mikell, who returned the pick to the Seahawks 27. Two plays later, the Rams were in the end zone on a 30-yard pass from Sam Bradford to Brandon Lloyd. The score gave St. Louis an early 7-0 lead. But it was the only one they could muster on Sunday afternoon.
The Seahawks loaded up against the run whenever Steven was in the backfield and slowed the St. Louis ground game to a halt. Coach Pete Carroll said Seattle game-planned toward S-Jax, who Carroll knows very well dating back to Steven's college days at Oregon State facing Carroll's USC teams.
"He's such a fantastic player," Carroll said. "I've watched this guy and gone against him for years, way back in college and all that. He's always been the same guy; he's the only guy you can see on the field when he's playing."
As the game went on, the Rams list of walking wounded grew. Already thin on the offensive line thanks to a season-ending injury to guard Roger Saffold this week, St. Louis lost Saffold's backup Mark LeVoir to injury late in the first. He was replaced by Kevin Hughes, who had just been called up off the practice squad. With the offensive line injuries and SJ39 split out wide for most of the day, unable to serve as his quarterback's last line of defense, Bradford was sacked five times.
"As injuries occurred, as things went down we became isolated to doing certain things…unfortunately we came up short," Steven said. "They have a great pass rush and they're a good defense…we've got to do a better job of protecting Sam and keeping him upright."
Steven's 42 rushing yards brought Steven's streak of three straight games with 100 or more yards on the ground to an end. But No. 39 still moved up a spot to eighth in the NFL in rushing yards with 749. Rams defensive end Chris Long said he was awed by what S-Jax is often able to do with so little help.
"It's pretty unbelievable," Long told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. "He's had some injuries and we've had some rough patches this year, but he's still got 700 yards rushing. Here he is inching towards 1,000 again, which is no easy task. He's just been a really consistent part of this franchise. It's amazing the way he runs the football. We all look to him as a leader, and as a great example."
The Rams look to Steven to lead them back from another loss this week in practice as they prepare for their next battle. Next Sunday the Arizona Cardinals come to town and St. Louis will aim to avoid a season sweep at the Cardinals' hand.
"It's very encouraging in this situation to see somebody who's still pushing and competing as heavily and as hard as he is," place-kicker Josh Brown told the Post-Dispatch of SJ39. "We only feed off that."
Sunday's kickoff from the Edward Jones Dome is scheduled for Noon CDT and the game can be seen on FOX.