Jackson, Rams hope to finish season on high note
ST. LOUIS – No three-hour plane trip this week. That’s enough to put a smile on Steven Jackson’s face, no matter how awful the St. Louis Rams’ season has been.
Happy to be home, the Pro Bowl running back is optimistic about his playing chances for Sunday’s finale against the San Francisco. He blames forced inactivity on the flight to Arizona last week as the major factor that kept him out of that game when his herniated disk flared up in pregame warmups.
“I really think that’s what hurt me,” Jackson said. “Being home this last week, I think, is going to do wonders for the back.”
Can’t hurt the Rams (1-14), either, in their efforts to avoid a winless home schedule against an opponent that whipped them 35-0 in October, but has lost six in a row on the road. Even if it costs them the No. 1 pick in the draft.
“We’ll do everything possible to win and not worry about picking first or second,” general manager Billy Devaney said.
Jackson means everything to an offense averaging an NFL-low 11 points, likely to be led by unheralded rookie quarterback Keith Null for the fourth straight game and minus three offensive line starters – yet somehow still optimistic.
Despite the weak supporting cast and the balky back that has kept him on a stationary bicycle during practice since late November, Jackson is second in the NFL with 1,353 yards rushing and fourth with 1,675 total yards. Tough to get much attention on a team that clinches the first pick of the draft with a loss, but Jackson did enough to earn his second Pro Bowl nod of a six-year career.
“Everyone knows the tremendous talent Steven has,” center Jason Brown said. “The yards he gained even when there was no hole, he definitely adds an element to our offense that cannot be rivaled or challenged.”
Jackson has delivered off the field, too, putting his 2007 training camp contract holdout far behind him. The weight of the Rams’ failures got to him only once, when he said “I’m tired” several times after a 47-7 loss at Tennessee earlier this month.
Otherwise he’s been upbeat, positive, onboard with the rebuilding efforts of a franchise that’s a sorry 6-41 the last three seasons.
“It was not something I came in focused on, it’s just kind of one of those things that probably just unfolded as the year went by. Someone needed to step up in the locker room and I just took responsibility,” he said. “I wasn’t trying to redefine who I am.”
Jackson is the poster boy for a franchise eager to rebuild its image and fan base. The finale will be the third game blacked out on local TV this season, and the last two crowds have been the worst since the franchise moved to St. Louis in 1995.
The Rams are trying to entice fans with multiple giveaways, including game-worn jerseys, autographed merchandise, roundtrip airline tickets and home entertainment packages on “fan appreciation day.” Random fans will get a pregame field visit, others will join cheerleaders in a fan tunnel during player introductions, and Rams merchandise will be at least 50 percent off at retail stands throughout the Edward Jones Dome, along with greatly discounted concession prices.
“We know if there are empty seats, we’ve got to deliver on our end to make it a better experience,” said Kevin Demoff, vice president of football operations and chief operating officer.
The likely farewell game for 49ers wide receiver Isaac Bruce adds at least a little spice to an otherwise lackluster matchup. The 37-year-old Bruce is second in career yards receiving, trailing only Jerry Rice, and fifth with 1,024 receptions, and was a four-time Pro Bowler in 14 seasons in St. Louis.
Bruce could start after being healthy but inactive the previous five games, following lobbying by fellow wide receivers, and said he’s “75 percent sure” he’ll retire.
“I think every great player knows when it’s getting to be that time,” coach Mike Singletary said. “I don’t think you have to tell a great player.”
Ten years ago, Bruce was a key member of the Rams’ lone Super Bowl championship team. His touchdown reception was the go-ahead score in a 23-16 victory over the Titans, but St. Louis lost 20-17 to the Patriots two years later in Bruce’s only other title game appearance.
“I’ve always said I have 10 fingers and just one Super Bowl (ring), there’s something wrong with that,” Bruce said. “When you play this long, all a person wants, all a person desires are Super Bowls, and everything else is on the back burner.”
A .500 season is in sight for the 49ers, who have endured six straight losing records but are 4-1 against the NFC West. San Francisco whipped the Rams the first time around without Frank Gore and with Shaun Hill at quarterback instead of Alex Smith. But their calling card has been a defense that’s forced 23 turnovers the last seven games.
All but one of the losses during their road skid are by a touchdown or less.
“I’m not really concerned whether or not the running back plays, I don’t care who the quarterback is going to be,” Singletary said. “It doesn’t matter. The most important thing for us is to make sure we’re prepared, we’re ready to go.”