Jackson, Rams sense their time is coming
by Mike Sando
The St. Louis Rams once resembled an organization held together with two-ply spandex and three rubber straps.
I would have used a different reference of something two-ply held together by something associated to something two-ply. He was being nice here.
That was Steven Jackson's right thigh Sunday.
A strained groin wasn't going to prevent the Rams' Pro Bowl running back from contributing to and reveling in the team's historic -- yes, historic -- 20-3 victory over the Seattle Seahawks.
"I know we have a philosophy around here that we don't look back," Jackson said, "but sometimes you just can't help but think about some of the hardship that this organization has been through."
St. Louis ended a 17-game NFC West losing streak and a 10-game slide against Seattle dating to Jackson's 2004 rookie season. At 2-2, the Rams are .500 for the first time since 2006. (Billy Devaney, the Rams' second-year general manager, seemed dumbfounded when I shared that one with him in the locker room Sunday.) They won consecutive games for the first time since 2008.
To focus solely on the dubious streaks that are ending would be to miss the promising ones ahead. The Rams are taking a 2-2 record into Detroit, the only place they won last season. Kicker Josh Brown had more touchdown passes (one) than starting quarterback Marc Bulger that day.
Rookie starter Sam Bradford has thrown at least one scoring pass in every game he's played this season. No other quarterback in the division can say that. With Bradford, the Rams have at least seven third-down conversions in three of four games this season, something they managed just twice in their previous 33 games.
"They're a lot better than they've been and they're building something here," Seahawks quarterback Matt Hasselbeck said.
Look around the NFC West and the landscape is changing.
The San Francisco ***** are 0-4 in a make-or-break season for quarterback Alex Smith and possibly coach Mike Singletary. The Arizona Cardinals lost Kurt Warner to retirement and turned to undrafted rookie Max Hall after Derek Anderson struggled badly at San Diego. The Seahawks appear lost outside Qwest Field and their quarterback situation beyond this season remains unsettled.
The Rams are the only team in the division with a young franchise quarterback.
"You saw a prepared quarterback -- very patient, sometimes too patient," Seahawks linebacker Aaron Curry said. "You saw a confident quarterback. You didn't see some guy who was out there flustered or out of control."
Bradford outplayed Hasselbeck even though the Seahawks roughed up the No. 1 overall choice early in the game. Bradford passed for 289 yards and two touchdowns, giving him six scoring passes in his first four games.
"I don't even look at him as a rookie any more," 30-year-old Rams guard Adam Goldberg said. "He's just the guy."
If Bradford is the guy, Jackson can still be the man. He was Sunday.
The contraption Jackson wore on his upper leg prevented him from taking anything close to a full-length stride, but he still managed a 49-yard gain on a screen, plus 16- and 15-yard carries. With the Rams' defense holding its fourth consecutive opponent to 17 points or fewer, St. Louis pretty much coasted to victory in the final quarter.
You read that right. They coasted.
"It's a huge win for us, especially coming off last week, a win versus Washington," Bradford said. "Everyone wanted to see if we could validate that."
Jackson's overall stats were nothing special -- 70 yards rushing and 54 receiving -- but he made timely contributions. Knowing what Jackson went through to play served as inspiration.
Jackson broke protocol by taking home one of the Rams' muscle-stimulation machines during the week, joking after the game that he hoped new team owner Stan Kroenke wouldn't mind. Jackson tried acupuncture. And when the time came for Jackson to strap it up, he did that, too.
Two pairs of compression shorts and a third layer with three straps allowed Jackson to play. His thigh looked like a blown radial tire.
"It is just to lock the groin in and make sure I do not get overextended, kind of what happened last week," Jackson explained. "At the same time, you give away the lack of opening up and being able to run fast. But luckily I'm 240, right?"
Teammates said they had a feeling by Friday that Jackson was going to play. But Jackson barely practiced Friday and he jogged through warm-ups Sunday. What teammates knew, and we could not, was that Jackson wasn't going to miss this opportunity. The Rams have a good thing going.
"He understood how important this game was for this football team," Bradford said.
Multiple Rams players used the phrase "buying in" when discussing their attitude toward second-year coach Steve Spagnuolo. Buying in is fine, but it becomes tough without occasionally realizing a return on one's investment. The Rams have now realized returns twice as many times as they did while posting a 1-15 record last season.
It's a start.