Steven Jackson broke tackles, carrying half the Jacksonville Jaguars defense down the field during a 38-yard, fourth quarter catch-and-run, fighting to give his St. Louis Rams a win for the first time this season.
S-Jax and the Rams came up just short Sunday, falling 23-20 in overtime, but the will, heart and desire displayed by SJ39 should give St. Louis fans reason to believe that this too shall pass.
Steven bursting through a rare hole on Sunday (StLouisRams.com).
After the game, Steven stood at his locker and relayed a message to his loyal fans and readers of SJ39.com:
"It's a tough loss but my confidence and my will to win have not left me. I'm going to continue to work hard to try to lead this team out of this slump we're in."
For the second game this season, Steven led the Rams in rushing and receiving, a rare accomplishment for a runner. He fought hard for every yard and came through when the ball was put in his hands.
But despite No. 39's success on the field, he and the Rams fell short of their ultimate goal: picking up their first win.
S-Jax carried 16 times for 50 yards and hauled in six passes for 78 yards as the Rams overcame two second half deficits and took the Jacksonville Jaguars to overtime.
"It was tooth-and-nail," No. 39 said. "We felt like if we were able to have the ball last, we were going to go down, score and win the game. They had an excellent offensive drive a couple times in the fourth quarter, led by Maurice. They did their job on offense. It really just came down to who was going to have the ball last."
But Jacksonville won the overtime toss and never let Steven and the St. Louis offense back on the field. As No. 39 watched from the sideline, a 36-yard Jacksonville field goal with eight minutes left in overtime dealt the Rams a defeat.
"I felt like we were close this week," Steven said after the game. "Every game is different. We're a young team. We just need to learn how to win. Each and every game is not going to be easy and when we're in the tough ones like this, we need to find a way to finish."
The Rams led for most of the game, but fell behind twice in the fourth quarter. After taking a 17-13 advantage on a stunning defensive touchdown with 4:36 to go, the Rams watched Jacksonville drive right down the field to take back the lead.
As St. Louis took possession trailing 20-17 with 1:53 on the clock in the fourth quarter, their backs were against the wall. So on the first play, they went to their leader, No. 39
On first-and-ten from the Rams 22, Rams quarterback Marc Bulger dropped back and quickly found Steven open in the flat. Steven made a move to make the first man miss and then rumbled for 38 yards, dragging tacklers with him to the Jacksonville 40-yard line.
It was Steven's biggest play of the day and one the Rams desperately needed.
"I was thinking I had to make a play," S-Jax said. "I knew that we only had one timeout and I was kind of in-between, thinking 'Do I need to get out of bounds?' But the way the first defender was attacking me, it seemed like he just assumed I was going to run out of bounds. So it allowed me to cut up the field and just try to make a huge play from there.
"After I made the first defender miss, I was just thinking about scoring a touchdown at that point."
The play brought the Rams within striking distance and fired up Steven's teammates. It was also the last time No. 39 touched the ball in the game. With time waning, Bulger went to his receivers over the next seven plays and the Rams got within nine yards of the end zone.
But they ran out of time, and had to settle for a field goal to play for overtime.
"Nothing in the NFL is given to you," S-Jax said. "We knew coming into this game it was going to be a tough fight. They wanted to rebound from their loss last week so we fully expected to have a tooth-and-nail fight and that's exactly what we got."
A PROMISING START
The Rams took the field on Sunday motivated to grab their first win and they showed it by driving down the field to score a touchdown to open the game.
SJ39 was a big factor in the game-opening drive, accounting for 31 yards on two catches and two runs. He quickly developed a rhythm with Bulger, who was starting his first game since suffering a shoulder injury against Green Bay on September 27.
"It felt really good," Steven said of his connection with Bulger. "Marc has been gone for the last two games and we really have a good feel for one another. He knows that I'm kind of like his safety net. If things down the field don't open up, he can trust that I'm going to be in my check down areas. It really allowed us to move the ball and establish some drives out there with him hitting me in the flats or over the middle."
Bulger made S-Jax his favorite receiver on Sunday, and stressed after the game how important it is for the Rams to get the ball into No. 39's hands.
"There were a couple of check downs that it was nice to get to Steven," Bulger said. "That's what we're going to have to do if teams are going to play split safety and play our guys off. We're going to have to start checking the ball down.
"Steven has great hands. He's not just a great runner. He has great hands, he blocks. He's the full package. The more ways we can get him the ball the better. I think [offensive coordinator Pat] Shurmur did a great job of mixing in ways to get him the ball."
Steven finished with 22 touches on the day, but 17 of those came in the first half. His 38-yard reception was one of only two fourth quarter touches for No. 39. After the game, S-Jax gave credit to the Jaguars for an effective scheme to stall the Rams ground attack.
"They did an excellent job of game planning," No. 39 said. "You can't give up on the run when the game is 10-7. Neither side of the ball really felt like they needed to just abandon the running game. [Maurice Jones-Drew] got his gains. He had a huge second half and I was able to make plays here and there. We just have to go back and look at the film to see what we need to do to get ready for next week."
PICTURE OF POISE
As the game ebbed and flowed through it's natural progression on Sunday, whether the Rams led, the Jaguars led or the game was tied, Steven could be seen on the sideline with the same focus.
When Jacksonville took a 13-10 lead early in the fourth quarter, No. 39 kept calm, retrieved his helmet and headed for the field. When the Rams took the lead back on Leonard Little's 36-yard interception return, he did not jump up and celebrate.
SJ knows that he must lead by example and can't get caught up in the emotional tide of the game.
"A game has its course of ups and downs," S-Jax said. "You just have to try and be levelheaded and even keel. I have to remain calm in all situations because I know the team heavily leans on me. So I can't allow myself to get into an emotional rollercoaster. I just try to handle it that way."