Steven Jackson is never lacking in determination, but his heart, his fortitude and his desire seem to stand out on Sundays.
Last Sunday, Steven and the Rams looked to pick up their third win of the season and play spoiler against the Cincinnati Bengals. SJ39 did all he could, rushing 18 times for 71 yards and catching a team-high nine passes for 72 yards.
But the Rams couldn't overcome scores by the Bengals on three of their first four possessions of the second half and dropped their 12th game of the season, 20-13 to Cincinnati at the Edward Jones Dome.
"Another tough loss. We get in scoring position, and we're unable to come out with touchdowns in a tight game," Steven said. "They're a good defense and we knew going in that it would be tough. They stopped us in third and short situations which really changed the balance of things and I think that gave them some momentum."
The Rams' came up on the short end again due to poor execution on scoring opportunities. They reached the Bengals' side of the field on each of their first four drives of the game, but were held without a score. Then, when St. Louis finally broke into the red zone on its sixth drive, they settled for a game-tying field goal. The Rams added another three points with 31 seconds left in the second to take a 6-3 halftime lead, but Cincinnati came roaring out with 17 unanswered in the second half and pulled away.
"We could've won this game," S-Jax said. "We just didn't play smart. We weren't heady about situations. Where the emotion of a football player comes in to play, you have to be able to control that. The Cincinnati Bengals did a better job than us when that happened."
Steven got off to a strong start, carrying for 21 yards on his first three handoffs of the day. He had a total of eight carries in the opening quarter and made 31 yards out of them. After a couple of three and outs in the second quarter, No. 39 heated up late in the half, developing a connection with on-call starting quarterback Kellen Clemens.
Starting as a Ram for the first time, Clemens took a little while to find his rhythm. But when he did, he hit SJ with passes for gains of 11 and four yards on a six-play drive at the end of the first half. The drive was culminated by a Josh Brown field goal to put St. Louis in front 6-3.
"I thought [Kellen] did a good job," No. 39 told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. "He's actually only been in this offense for a week and a half, so for him to come in right away, have the responsibility of what goes on in this offense, it's a lot. For him to run the offense and command the huddle like he did, I thought he did a fairly good job."
After carrying 12 times for 48 yards in the first half, Steven got just six more carries in the second half for 23 yards.
But Clemens fed Steven with seven passes after halftime, including four for 32 yards on a drive that put the Rams in the red zone down by two scores with less than four minutes to go. But a sack on third down and an incompletion by Clemens on 4th and 6 turned the ball over to Cincinnati, ending the Rams' comeback hopes.
Steven's 71 yards rushing left him at 966, just 34 shy of reaching 1,000 for the seventh straight season. His 4.4 yards per carry this season are a career-high and he is tied for seventh in the NFL in YPC among backs with at least 200 carries. Moreover, Steven's versatility this year also puts him in elite company, as Bernie Miklasz of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch writes:
Steven Jackson ranks 7th among NFL running backs in rushing-receiving yards from scrimmage per game, with an average of 97 yards. That's impressive considering that the opposing defense comes into every game with the sole purpose of stopping Jackson. The Rams' inability to pass the ball makes it easier to gang up on Jackson, but he still gets yards.
Sunday's loss marked the 12th of the year for the Rams, who are two games away from completing their fifth consecutive losing season.
But while losing remains tough to swallow, Steven never questions "why me?" anymore. He knows that adversity is just part of his path.
"That was a question I asked myself maybe three, four years ago," Jackson said. "At this point now, I think it's clear that my legacy will be defined by me having to deal with these hard situations. And watching me grow."
Despite all the challenges, SJ39 has made it clear that he will not stop fighting for St. Louis and wants to win a championship not only for himself and his teammates, but for the city.
"My main focus always is to be the best player on this team and go from there. By doing that, I think that puts me among the elite," he said. "I've become a pillar of strength more so than just a running back. It's hard to be a great running back when you have guys like Marshall and Eric Dickerson that were in this franchise. But my legacy will be defined by the things that I've overcome, and the adversity."
The Rams have another tough one to overcome this week as they head to Pittsburgh to take on the Steelers on Saturday afternoon. Kickoff is scheduled for Noon CST and the game can be seen on FOX.