Steven Jackson had waited 60 games for a day like this, so he wasn't about to let it pass him by.
Over the course of the last three seasons, from 2007 to 2009, it took the St. Louis Rams 48 games to reach six wins. On Sunday afternoon, in St. Louis' 12th game this year, Steven ensured the Rams would hit that plateau this season.
Talk to the hand: Steven stiffarms an Arizona defender on route to a big gain (courtesy St. Louis Post Dispatch).
No. 39 rushed for 102 yards and scored the game's only touchdown as St. Louis defeated the Arizona Cardinals 19-6 at University of Phoenix Stadium to move back to .500 for the season and maintain their lead over the Seattle Seahawks in the NFC West.
It was fitting that the Rams reached the plateau against Arizona, the team that had dominated the NFC West, winning a pair of division titles and making a Super Bowl appearance, as the Rams scuffled the last few seasons.
"We really want to make this thing go and turn this thing around," Steven told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. "It has to go through Arizona. They were the division winners last year. I have a lot of respect for this team and to come out with this win was very meaningful for us. It has been a long time."
In fact, the Rams had lost eight straight to the Cardinals entering Sunday's matchup, but No. 39 wasn't about to let that streak reach nine.
S-Jax ground out 45 yards on 10 first half carries, including a 22-yard gash through the Cardinals' secondary in the first quarter that led directly to a Rams field goal.
But it was in the second half when No. 39 really broke out. He rushed 18 times for 57 yards, including a 27-yard scoring run midway through the third that put the game away for the Rams.
On that run, Steven took a handoff to the outside, dodged a tackler in the backfield and another in the linebacking corps before breaking free to the second level and scorching a path down the sideline to his fourth touchdown of the season.
"'Jack' played awesome today," Rams quarterback Sam Bradford told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. "He really carried our offense. At times we were struggling to get things going in the pass game. It seemed like every time we handed him the ball he was getting positive yards for us.
"I really think probably one of the biggest plays of the game, too, was his touchdown run. He made a great run to get that touchdown. It was big at that point in the game."
To watch Steven's scoring scamper, click here.
ESPN's Mike Sando called the play, which gave the Rams a 16-6 lead, a back-breaker. Meanwhile Steven was happy that, after a game in Denver last week in which rush yards were hard to come by, the Rams offense stuck with him.
"A hundred yards is tough to get in this league. It doesn't matter who you get it against. I'm just happy that we're staying committed to the run these last two weeks," he told the Post-Dispatch. "The offensive coordinator (Pat Shurmur) allowed for us to continue to pound the ball, to continue to make them stay honest. Jason Smith had a great kick-out block on the touchdown run. And we really got after them. Each and every carry was physical, and it was a statement."
For the statement he and the Rams' rushing offense made on Sunday, Van Ram of Turf Show Times believed the game ball should go to SJ39:
No, Steven Jackson is as good this week as he was at the beginning of the season; however, this week, he was much more effective. In fact, the game ball really has to go to Jackson, who carried the Rams to the win this week. But enough hyperbole. In the season's first week, Jackson ran the ball 13 times in the second half, but only picked up just 34 yards. This week, Jackson ran the ball 18 times for 56 yards in the second half, scoring the Rams' only TD of the game.
The Rams found a way to make the running game work, a recipe that included a little of Arizona's defense, an effective enough passing game that helped spread the field and the sheer will power of Steven Jackson. In the third quarter, the Rams had a time of possession advantage of 12 minutes to 3 minutes. Together, they converted third downs when they needed to (after converting just one in the first half) and controlled the game.
A WILLING DECOY
It's been no secret for a few years now that Steven is the key cog in making the Rams offense go.
That's why defenses often send the house at him, selling out to stop the run and limit No. 39's contributions. But now that the Rams have an established passing attack led by rookie quarterback Sam Bradford, No. 39 is happy to play decoy so Bradford and his receivers can make defenses pay for loading up on the run.
"At this point now, I understand that a lot of my role is to keep a defense honest,'' Steven said this week. "That's not to say I'm not going to play hard or be the back I know I can be. But the (opposition) game play is to stop our running game first.
"I'd love to have 100 yards. I'd love to have big games. But at the same time, if the defense is that focused on the running game, I think we come out with a win already, and now we just have to execute through the air."
S-Jax knows it's now a matter of the defense picking their poison and eventually, he'll stop seeing those eight and nine-man fronts that give any running game fits.
"Our passing game is better and that spreads the ball," he told FanHouse. "Last week the big play to (tight end) Billy Bajema was a run-action that everyone bit on and he was wide open. You have those big plays because of the respect of the running game."
After his 102-yard day on Sunday, Steven is just 15 yards shy of his sixth consecutive 1,000-yard season and he's doing it while feeling the best he's ever felt this late in the year, as he told Fox Sports Midwest:
"This is the freshest I have felt in about three seasons," he said. "Last year was just misery, and the other two, I had some banged-up issues where, I remember 2008 going into Atlanta, we were fighting for 1,000 yards. So this is the freshest I've felt in a long time in the month of December."
At the rate he's running, SJ39 is on pace to reach over 1,300 yards rushing for the third time in his career. Last year he ran for 1,416 yards and though he's about 100 yards off that mark, he's proud of what he's been able to do.
"I'm a little off pace of where I want to be personally," Jackson said, "but I'm very proud of that and 1,000-yard seasons, no matter how they come, are very impressive. I want to continue to do the city proud as well as the running game."
And as long as the Rams are winning, it will remain that way.
"It feels good to play football at this level, having games going into December that really mean something outside of own personal pride," Steven told Fox. "It's something that I'm looking forward to this next month of football. The games are going to get bigger as the weeks go on, but first things first. You have to win each game for them to get bigger. I think everyone's looking forward to the challenge."
The Rams complete their three-game road swing on Sunday when they head to New Orleans to take on the defending Super Bowl Champion Saints at the Louisiana Superdome.
Steven has had overwhelming success in four career games against the Saints. He's rushed for 319 yards and four touchdowns on 70 carries, a 4.6 yards per carry average. He's also caught 16 passes for 88 yards. But his most memorable moment against New Orleans came when a winless Rams team visited the Superdome on November 11, 2007.
In that game, SJ39 threw the only pass of his NFL career to date, finding Rams tight end Randy McMichael for a two-yard touchdown that gave St. Louis a 14-7 lead on the way to a 37-29 upset victory.
The Rams will try to create some more Cajun Magic this Sunday in New Orleans. Kickoff is scheduled for 3:05 CST and the game can be seen regionally on FOX.