The role of underdog is not unfamiliar to Steven Jackson and the St. Louis Rams.
It's a role the Rams have thrived in so far this season. So despite heading to New Orleans this weekend to face the defending Super Bowl Champions on Sunday, the Rams aren't worried. They're just ready.
After all, it was Steven and Co. that took the then undefeated Saints to the wire in Week 10 last season. But Steven said he doesn't take much from what the Rams were able to do against New Orleans last season, because now, the Rams are even better.
"Two different teams. Two different scenarios. I think last year, and I can't speak for New Orleans, but we weren't a team that was 6-6," he said. "I think they'll be waiting on us this time, and it'll be a good test for us on the road."
St. Louis heads to New Orleans, brimming with confidence in the midst of a two-game road winning streak that has pushed them to the top of the NFC West standings.
"Two weeks ago, at that point, we were winless on the road. So for us to get two wins on the road back-to-back weeks, it shows that this team responds to challenge," Steven told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. "We have another huge game, and it's going to be rowdier in New Orleans. We have to get ready for this."
Having conquered their road demons, St. Louis is now facing a test of a different type: defeating a team with a winning record.
"I think at this point they are all statement games," S-Jax told the Belleville News-Democrat. "I think we're still trying to prove to teams and football fans that we are not the same Rams, now we are legit."
Of their six wins this season, only one has come against a team with an above .500 record, the Seattle Seahawks in Week 4. But Seattle has teetered near .500 ever since. The Saints at 9-3 are among the NFL's elite, a level the Rams strive to reach. They can start that climb this week.
"As games approach, and each and every week as we continue to be successful, games are going to get bigger," SJ39 said. "And I think this team is starting to understand that. We've just got to continue to execute and play together."
You can bet No. 39 will be a key to Sunday's game. Steven's career numbers against the Saints are off the charts. In four career games against New Orleans, 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 in the Louisiana Superdome on November 11, 2007. In that game, SJ39 threw the only pass of his NFL career to date, finding 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.
SJ39 IS BURNING
Their success this season is garnering the Rams plenty of national respect.
Earlier this week, Steven talked more about this season, Sam Bradford and taking on the Saints when he was a guest on ESPN's Jim Rome is Burning. Check it out below:
In a recent piece for ESPN, NFC West blogger Mike Sando analyzed why Sam Bradford is the right player at the right time for the Rams.
But in discussions with Bradford, Sando came away most impressed with the effect that No. 39 has had on his rookie quarterback. Sando writes:
"I was most struck by what Bradford said about Jackson, the Rams' Pro Bowl running back, and second-year head coach Steve Spagnuolo. Young franchise quarterbacks need strong support from their organizations. Bradford seems to be getting that support in St. Louis.
"We could be here all day if you wanted to talk bout everything 'Jack' means to me and this football team," Bradford said. "I don't know if I've ever been around anyone with such a commanding presence on a team. He walks in a room and there is silence. You hear horror stories about rookies coming in and vets big-timing them. Steven Jackson has been the opposite."
That should come as no surprise though. As a leader of men, No. 39 continues to set the tone with his words and presence, but mostly with his actions, as Bernie Miklasz of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch writes:
"Another guy, obviously, who sets the right example for young players is RB Steven Jackson. Teammates see him take a pounding. They see him running hard, into the gut of the line, where usually five or six men are waiting to gang-tackle him. They see him wince in pain.
They know his left hand hurts a lot more than Jackson lets on. They know his problematic back must be killing him, though Jackson says no, he's feeling pretty good. But Jackson never stops going. The last two games he's had 57 carries and 174 grueling yards."
CLOSING IN ON CENTURY MARK
While winning on Sunday remains Steven's ultimate goal, No. 39 also enters Sunday's game with a personal goal very much within reach.
With 985 yards, No. 39 is just 15 yards shy of reaching the 1,000-yard mark for the sixth straight season. Steven says the mark is a testament to consistency.
"It just means I'm doing my job at a consistent level, and hopefully I will continue to do so until I decide to hang up the cleats," Jackson said. "This is something I have accomplished not on my own, but with my teammates. This is a joint effort of me, once again, eclipsing 1,000 yards."
Offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur on the other hand, thinks the credit should go to Steven, because he's the one who has been fighting for those yards, battling through injuries and eight and nine man fronts on a weekly basis. But Shurmur knows what really drives Steven, and it's not stats, as he told the Belleville News-Democrat:
"I think it's another great accomplishment for a terrific Rams player," Rams offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur said of Jackson reaching 1,000 rushing yards. "I think he'd be the first one to tell that he'd like to do it in a game where we win. Statistics are nice. They kind of mark us as we go, and they're indicators of great performance, but at the end of the day, great competitors want to win."
No. 39 also knows it won't be easy for him to get there against the New Orleans defense, as he told the News-Democrat this week:
"Very aggressive," Jackson said of the Saints' defense "Their (defensive backs) take a lot of chances on the outside. (Safety Darren) Sharper, he's a big playmaker for them. (Middle linebacker Jonathan) Vilma is the quarterback, he runs sideline to sideline pretty well, and the defensive line gets after the quarterback, especially in third-and-long.
"We're playing a very talented team, especially when they are at home. They really feed off the frenzy of the crowd. The noise factor is going to be something we have to lock in on, but I think we're up for the challenge."
The Rams take on the New Orleans Saints Sunday in the Louisiana Superdome. Kickoff is scheduled for 3:15 CST and the game can be seen regionally on FOX.