Jackson In Select Company

Steven Jackson (AP/Ben Margot)

ST. LOUIS — Steven Jackson was a rookie first-round draft pick and a backup to running back Marshall Faulk when the St. Louis Rams last went to the playoffs in 2004.

It was the fifth playoff berth in six seasons for the Rams. Jackson, the 21-year-old out of Oregon State, didn't expect it to be his last. But St. Louis hasn't been back since.

"I thought it would be an every year thing," Jackson said Thursday. "I thought the playoffs would be something I'm accustomed to. But, God willing, if we make it back this time, I won't take it for granted. I'll play each and every game and each and every play like I may not be back."

The Rams (6-7) currently lead the NFC West with three games remaining. They are tied with Seattle, but they won the first head-to-head matchup.

They host intrastate rival Kansas City on Sunday and then divisional rival San Francisco in two weeks. The Rams close on the road against the Seahawks.

Jackson, now 27, is in his seventh NFL season and is in position to make another playoff appearance — his first as a starter. "That's when you see guys start to define themselves in their career, what people remember of them," he said. "It's not regular-season play; it's postseason play. So I do hope to be a part of that."

On Sunday, Jackson became the 12th player in NFL history to rush for more than 1,000 yards in six consecutive seasons. It is select company.

Emmitt Smith had a record 11 straight 1,000-yard rushing seasons with the Dallas Cowboys. Barry Sanders and Curtis Martin had 10 straight 1,000-yard seasons. LaDainian Tomlinson and Thurman Thomas had eight consecutive 1,000-yard seasons.

Eric Dickerson had seven straight 1,000-yard seasons. Walter Payton had six, as did Franco Harris, Jerome Bettis, Ricky Watters and Corey Dillon. Kansas City's Thomas Jones has five straight 1,000-yard rushing seasons and is 234 yards away this season from stretching that streak to year No. 6.

"It means a lot," Jackson said. "It means that over the years I've continued to be a back that's consistent, no matter the injuries I've endured, with the help of my offensive line — I don't want to make it sound like I've done it myself — with the help of my offensive lines over the years, we've done a great job of hitting the milestone year in and year out."

Among the running backs who did not accomplish the feat during their impressive careers were Faulk, O.J. Simpson, Tony Dorsett, Earl Campbell and Jim Brown.

"It's a great accomplishment," Rams center Jason Brown said. "A lot of people know that running backs, they have short careers. When you find people like Marshall Faulk or Emmitt Smith, they defy the odds. Running backs are the only ones where when you carry the ball you are expected to get hit and brought down to the ground every time you touch the football.

"The thing is, Steven is so strong I refer to him as, if he was a horse, as a thoroughbred. That's the only thing you can pretty much call him. He is a physical specimen. He's not built like any other running back in this league as far as the height, the strength and also the speed and explosiveness. He's still strong, and with that strength he's done a great job at maintaining his health. When other guys might be declining right now, I still feel as though he has the best years ahead of him."

Earlier this season Jackson surpassed Dickerson as the all-time rushing leader for the Rams' franchise. He has risen to 44th on the NFL's all-time rushing list with 7,788 yards.

Jackson is averaging 4.3 yards per carry in his career, with 1,824 rushing attempts spread out over 97 games in his seven seasons.

"I think a lot of that has to do with his offseason regimen," Rams safety Oshiomogho Atogwe said. "A lot of people don't know Jack works extremely hard in his offseason, probably harder in the offseason than he does during the season as far as getting his body right, getting his body healthy and as strong as possible. Whenever you have a back who has consistently produced and played well over a long period of time it says a lot about his work ethic and his commitment and his drive for the game."

Jackson has gained 10,363 yards from scrimmage in his career and scored 52 touchdowns.

"He runs with power; he's smart; he knows how to block the blitz," New Orleans Saints coach Sean Payton said last week. "He's versatile. When you have that ability to handle protections, handle the runs inside, outside, and stay healthy and durable — which I think he's been able to do, that's not the norm for that position anymore in our league — those guys are hard to find."

Jackson, who began his streak of 1,000-yard seasons when Rams rookie quarterback Sam Bradford was still in high school in Oklahoma, is well respected in the team's locker room and has served as a mentor to his young teammates.

"It speaks volumes about who he is," said Rams fullback Mike Karney, one of Jackson's closest friends on the team. "Great character will always shine through. Great people will always shine through, in tough times and in good times. Steven has seen some tough times here and he's seen some good times right now. You aren't seeing a different person because of winning."

But the rest of the football world will see a lot more of the two-time Pro Bowl player if he's able to lead the Rams back to the playoffs. And Jackson, who has played through a groin injury and a broken bone in his left hand this season, is doing everything he can to get St. Louis back there.

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