Steven Jackson spent nine years as the St. Louis Rams' workhorse out of the backfield. On Sunday, however, he'll be playing his first game in his new Atlanta home, and when he takes the field, he'll be facing defenders with whom he shared a locker room.
The Rams allowed the 30 year-old running back leave St. Louis for greener pastures this off season. It was a mutually satisfactory parting of the ways. The Rams felt Jackson was on the downside of his productive years, and Jackson didn't see much of an opportunity for him to compete for a championship with the young Rams.
Even though the breakup was amicable, especially in the high profile world of the NFL, Jackson will have a little extra to prove on Sunday when he faces his former team.
The Rams watched Jackson's yardage totals decline from a Pro Bowl season of 1,416 yards in 2009 to 1,042 yards in 2012. NFL running backs have notoriously short shelf lives, and Les Snead wasn't inclined to invest in a long-term deal for his aging back.
Ironically, Jackson's rushing total was identical to his previous low as Rams starter. In 2008, Jackson also rushed for 1,042 yards. The next two seasons he was selected to the Pro Bowl.
If Jackson still has that kind of production left, he could be the missing piece in the Falcons' Super Bowl plans. With a superstar quarterback in Matt Ryan, elite wide receivers in Julio Jones and Roddy White, and a future Hall of Famer at tight end in Tony Gonzalez, the Falcons are as talented as they come on offense. What's been missing is a bruising back who can pick up critical yards and move the chains late in games.
Last week in New Orleans, Jackson ran 11 times for 77 yards, including a 50 yard burst. He also caught five balls out of the backfield. It was his three drops, however, that drew the most attention. On the games penultimate play, with Atlanta facing a third and goal on the Saints' three yard line down 23-17, Ryan found Jackson in the flat for a seemingly sure touchdown. Jackson couldn't hold on, though, and Ryan's last attempt to Gonzalez was picked off in the end zone.
So Jackson comes back for his Atlanta debut somewhat the "goat" of the Falcons' week one loss. He'll be eager to make some noise for the home folks lest they begin making some of their own noises directed at him. That his opponents are his former team adds fuel for Jackson's fire.
Jackson and the Falcons, preseason Super Bowl picks for many, don't want to fall to 0-2. The Rams will need to be prepared for a little extra juice in Jackson's step come Sunday afternoon.
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