They were close to setting an NFL record

News-Democrat

St. Louis Rams running back Steven Jackson put an exclamation point on his breakout season by rushing for 142 yards and three touchdowns against the NFL's best run defense.

Jackson had four touchdowns in the Rams' 41-21 win over the Minnesota Vikings on Sunday.

Jackson ended up with 1,528 rushing yards, the most of any Rams running back not named Eric Dickerson, and 2,336 yards from scrimmage, the second most in Rams history behind Marshall Faulk's 2,429 yards from scrimmage in 1999.

"That's pretty impressive," Rams coach Scott Linehan said of Jackson's performance this season. "He's the first person who is going to throw around the wealth with the offensive line and how they played at the end of the year.

"It's pretty hard to express with words the kind of year that he had. You really can't do it justice."

Like Linehan predicted, Jackson credited the guys blocking in front of him for the dramatic increase in his production.

"First of all, my offensive line," Jackson said. "We really got to know each other during training camp, and we have actual meetings where the running backs and the offensive linemen get together.

"That made for great strides in the way I'm playing and the way those guys are playing."

Jackson had a 59-yard run -- his longest of the season -- in the fourth quarter to seal the win.

Rams right guard Richie Incognito had a key block in springing Jackson.

"When he got the guy good, I was like, 'Whew,"' Jackson said. "I saw it open up, and I was trying to haul whatever I could haul down the field."

After reaching the end zone, Jackson tossed the football to fan wearing a Rams No. 39 jersey in the stands at the Metrodome.

"There were a lot of purple jerseys in the stands, and when I saw that lonely No. 39 after that great run, I just wanted to thank him for his support, and hopefully get more of a fan base in Minnesota," Jackson said.

In addition to his on-the-field improvement, Jackson began to develop as a leader in the locker room this season.

"A lot of times leadership depends on how you are playing," Jackson said. "Guys definitely respect guys who are playmakers on the field. For a couple of years now, I've had to kind of play the backup role.

"This year being the guy the offense runs around, the emotional leader in the huddle -- I'm real fiery at times -- I think the guys respect that. Not only am I talking it, but I'm also in there walking it with them."

Bartell's big day

Rams cornerback Ron Bartell had never intercepted a pass in the NFL until two weeks ago against the Oakland Raiders.

Now he's got three interceptions as he added two more picks against the Vikings on Sunday.

"It's definitely a good feeling to give the team a spark," Bartell said. "Coach gave me an opportunity with (Travis) Fisher down, and I think I did a good job of taking advantage of it.

"Now it's just a matter of improving in the offseason and having a bigger year next year."

On the third play of the game, Bartell stepped in front of sideline pass by Minnesota rookie quarterback Tavaris Jackson that was intended for wide receiver Billy McMullen. Bartell returned the interception 38 yards for his first NFL touchdown.

"Billy tried to outleverage me for the flat, but I was able to jump it," Bartell said. "Me and Corey (Chavous) actually watched that play on film the other day, so when I saw the formation, I pretty much knew what was coming."

Bartell, a second-round pick in the 2005 NFL draft, also intercepted another short pass by Jackson early in the second quarter. Bartell might have scored another touchdown if he hadn't stumbled.

"They've been on me about since that happened," Bartell said. "I have a bad wheel, and that wheel went flat when I came down."

Quick hits

Quarterback Marc Bulger avoided being the most sacked quarterback in Rams' history after the team surrendered no sacks on Sunday.

Bulger was sacked 49 times this season, two shy of the club record of 51 set by Dieter Brock in 1985.

The Rams' inactives were cornerback Jerametrius Butler, fullback Paul Smith, running back Rich Alexis, linebacker Jamal Brooks, guard-center Larry Turner, offensive tackle Jeremy Parquet, defensive end Victor Adeyanju and third-string quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick.

Leonard Little got his team-leading 13th sack of the season, while Jimmy Kennedy got his first sack of the season.

Rams wide receiver Torry Holt had his NFL-record string of seven straight seasons with 1,300 or more receiving yards broken. He ended up with a team-leading 93 receptions for a team-leading 1,188 yards.

The Rams closed out the regular season with three wins for the first time since winning their final six regular-season games in 2001.