By Bill Coats
ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH
Tuesday, Dec. 12 2006

With the high-flying Chicago Bears in town, incentive came in many forms for
the Rams’ Steven Jackson.

• The “Monday Night Football” stage provided Jackson with a chance to showcase
himself to a nationwide audience. “I’m here trying to prove that I’m No. 1”
among NFL running backs, Jackson said during preparations for the contest. “I
know that it’ll come over time as the yardage racks up, but right now I’m
striving to be No. 1.”

• Jackson went into the game needing just 19 yards to top his career high of
1,046 rushing yards, established last year in his second season. “It was a goal
of mine to try to reach 1,000 yards fast so I could start getting into the
teens, you know, 1,300 or 1,400 yards,” he said. “For me to accomplish that
last week (with 96 yards vs. Arizona) was a huge milestone, and now I’m looking
forward to further down-the-line goals.”

• And a big game by Jackson loomed as the Rams’ best hope for an upset. The
Bears went into Week 14 ranked second in total defense — No. 2 vs. the pass but
only 12th vs. the run.

A solid ground game “helps slow the pass rush down,” said Jackson, the team’s
first-round draft choice in 2004 out of Oregon State. “We can help protect Marc
(Bulger, Rams quarterback), take the hits off of him and keep those guys
playing honest. It doesn’t allow the defense to pin their ears back and come
after us in blitz frenzy.”

The theory was sound, but the Bears scored twice on kickoff returns by rookie
Devin Hester and pummeled the Rams 42-27 in front of 66,234 at the Edward Jones
Dome.

Still, Jackson scored two touchdowns and had another productive outing. He
carried 18 times for 81 yards and added 10 receptions for 58 yards. For the
season, Jackson has rushed for 1,109 yards and added 680 receiving yards on 82
receptions.

“It doesn’t matter the situation, he’s going 100 percent,” rookie guard Mark
Setterstrom said. “As an offensive line, you appreciate that. He’s always out
there battling.”

Jackson sputtered a bit at the outset, picking up just 11 yards on four carries
in the first quarter. He found his stride on a 72-yard touchdown drive midway
through the second quarter.

On the first play, Jackson started up the middle, juked to the outside and
rumbled down the right sideline for 21 yards, reaching 1,060 for the season and
surpassing last year’s total.

Jackson carried five more times on the drive. He scored on a 2-yard run, again
starting up the middle, encountering traffic, then bouncing out to the right
and into the end zone.

That put the Rams up 13-7. Earlier, they had marched 99 yards, with Bulger
finding wideout Torry Holt for a 1-yard TD. In the final period, Jackson scored
on a 6-yard pass from Bulger.

Guard Adam Timmerman said the 6-foot-2, 231-pound Jackson has “just gotten
better, and he’s running harder. I think later in the season those guys have
seen enough film and they don’t want to come up and take him on, especially
when you get him through the front seven into their safeties and cornerbacks.”

Jackson had cramps in both legs after a 4-yard run halfway through the third
period. He was replaced by Stephen Davis for the next series but returned early
in the fourth quarter.

Not only is Jackson boosting his rushing totals, he has emerged this year as a
potent receiver. His 72 catches (for 622 yards) were the most by a running back
and tied for ninth among all pass-catchers after Sunday’s games.

“I love blocking for him,” center Richie Incognito said. “He’s an all-around
guy. Works hard and plays hard. He’s a big part of this team.”