By John Boyle Herald Writer
RENTON — If the Seahawks can pull out a victory Sunday, a 7-9 record and the NFC West title that comes with it would certainly represent progress for a team that is coming off back-to-back down seasons.
Should St. Louis emerge victorious, however, the Rams’ turnaround in 2010 would be downright remarkable. Because as bad as things have gone for the Seahawks, who won just nine games in 2008 and 2009, it has been much, much worse for the Rams. St. Louis, which dominated the division in the late 90s and early 2000s, has fallen on hard times of late, winning just one game last year, two in 2008 and three in 2007. Win Sunday and the Rams would be 8-8 and playoff bound for the first time since 2003.
From 1-15 to hosing a playoff game? Bad division or not, that would be a pretty impressive accomplishment.
“You know, it’s been a roller coaster ride,” running back Steven Jackson said on a conference call. “You try to embrace what’s going on, you want to be happy but you don’t want to celebrate too much. I kind of feel like I’m shell-shocked. But what we’re doing, what we’re coaching around here, I’m really happy, I’m looking forward to the game Sunday, to be playing a meaningful game (for the first time) in quite some time, it really brings the excitement back to football.”
And Jackson has every right to be shell-shocked. In his first six seasons with the Rams, he never played on a team with a winning record. And thanks to bad teams and the fact that he plays in a relatively small market, he has been one of the league’s most underappreciated players, piling up big numbers as fast as his teams piles up losses.
“I’ve had to endure more than just the 1-15 season,” said Jackson, who with four more yards will eclipse 1,200 rushing yards for the third time in five years. “Over the last three years, before this year, I’ve only won six games in I think 48 contests, so when I’m saying shell-shocked, I’m talking about a body of a career that I’ve never had a chance to be better than 8-8. You look around the league and see your peers, guys you were drafted with, play in Super Bowls and achieve a lot of things — you kind of want that. This is what we all play for. We don’t play an individual sport. We play the greatest team sport there is and to not be able to have a highlight to my career, they were some down times. But it feels good. It feels good to go into this week 17 game and have everything on the line.”
The Rams are playing well thanks to a much improved defense, and also because of the steady play of No. 1 overall pick Sam Bradford, who has shown surprising poise and composure for a rookie quarterback. Bradford has completed 335 passes*, surpassing Peyton Manning’s rookie record, and has thrown 18 touchdowns with 14 interceptions. Not spectacular numbers, but impressive when you consider how most rookie quarterbacks fare, not to mention the lack of talent around him, particularly at receiver.
“He’s come in with the pressure of being a Heisman Trophy winner and turning the team around, going from 1-15 to possibly fighting for the NFC West,” Jackson said. “He’s done a great job. It’s just unbelievable how poised the kid is.”
While everyone was aware of Bradford’s physical abilities, it was the maturity he showed early in training camp that won his teammates over.
“It was our first week of practice, and a play came in wrong according to the personnel in the huddle and he quickly identified it and corrected it,” Jackson said. “This was like four or five practices into a new season. When that happened, I knew that the kid was really focused on what he had to do and he was in tune with the playbook. Things like that are what are impressive.”
Also impressive is how well St. Louis is playing with youth at key positions. In addition to a rookie at quarterback, the Rams have a rookie at left tackle and second-year players at right tackle and both starting receiver spots. The defense has more experience, but is led by second-year middle linebacker James Laurinaitis, another young player at a vitally important position.
“With the young team that they have, this is just one of those big steps that you take and they’re really going to be something to deal with the next couple of years, in particular because Bradford has been such a factor,” Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said. “I’m sure they wanted more but they’ve got to be really feeling good about the direction that they’re going in right now.”
But as impressive as the Rams’ turnaround has been, they’re not ready to enjoy anything they’ve accomplished yet, not with so much riding on Sunday’s game.
“I learned in this business that win or lose on Sunday, once Monday afternoon rolls around the challenge of the job going forward is the same,” Rams coach Steve Spagnuolo said. “Nobody waits for you to celebrate a win; nobody waits for you if you’re pouting about a loss. So I really haven’t (reflected on the turnaround). They’ll be time for that — hopefully it’s down the road here a ways — but right now it’s all focused on this one game. I feel strongly and I always preach to the team that if you focus the energy anywhere else, it takes away from what you’re trying to do.”
Herald Writer John Boyle: firstname.lastname@example.org. For more Seahawks coverage, check out the Seahawks blog at heraldnet.com/seahawksblog.
*Correction, Dec. 30, 2010: The original article indicated the incorrect record.