The Rams have a chance to achieve something the franchise hasn’t done since 2003, the year before running back Steven Jackson was drafted: finish a season with a winning record.
Following a 28-13 victory over Tampa Bay, the team’s third straight road victory, the Rams learned they were eliminated from the playoffs because of Minnesota’s win over Houston.
However, as Jackson said, "We have a lot to play for, a winning season, undefeated in the division. It's something to build off of and go into the offseason feeling happy and strong and make it appealing to free agents as well."
Of course, it won’t be easy going into Seattle to play a Seahawks team that is undefeated at home, has qualified for the playoffs and has won their last three games by a combined score of 150-30.
Said coach Jeff Fisher, "Well, we're going to play hard. We're going to finish up strong and go up to Seattle. It'll give us a chance to finish out on a winning note and a chance to be undefeated in the division. I think if we're able to do that, I'd say we can jump into the offseason with optimism for next year. We got seven wins now and I don't think many people thought we would do that, but we got a chance to get eight."
Against the Buccaneers, the Rams intercepted four passes, returning one for a touchdown by rookie cornerback Janoris Jenkins. The Rams failed to have a takeaway in seven games this season, and they lost them all.
Said linebacker Jo-Lonn Dunbar, "It is definitely a boost. Any time you get turnovers, it's good for your defense and good for your offense. It creates short fields for the most part, and it's a momentum changer. We were fortunate enough to create those turnovers and we just have to keep that rolling."
Jenkins’ interception return was his fourth defensive score of the season, three of them interceptions. They have all happened in the last five games. "He's a huge playmaker,” Dunbar said. “Any time that ball is up, he has a play to make on the ball. He's proven that over the course of the season, and I think he's just going to turn into a great pro if he just keeps working at it and stays humble."
Jenkins has given up some big plays, but defensive end Chris Long said, "Some guys make mistakes and don't make any big plays. So I'll take the guy that's scored four touchdowns this year. He's got a really bright future. He's done a great job of just being mature and continuing to work at his craft. He's grown up a lot this year."
His three interception return touchdowns ties the franchise single-season record held by Monte Jackson (1976) and Rod Perry (1978). It also tied an NFL rookie record held by Ronnie Lott and Lem Barney.
When Fisher was asked about the chances of Jenkins winning defensive rookie of the year, he said, "There are a lot of good players out there. We'll let his peers vote on that, but he's really been playing well as of late. It was a good catch and a good return. He's been tackling well."
Added safety Quintin Mikell, "I'll tell you what, the guy's incredible. Not only does he make the interception, but he brings it back for a touchdown. We love to have him. Great to have him on the team and hopefully he'll get some more next week."
Meanwhile, Jackson gained 81 tough yards on 19 attempts, ending up 10 short of his eighth consecutive 1,000-yard season. "We were hoping that we could knock it out and get it out of the way, but they are a very tough defense; No. 1 against the run,” Jackson said. “We were very pleased with how we were able to move the ball on the ground as a running offense. They are very stout, very tough to run against, but the offensive line created lanes for me to run through."
Jackson scored on a rushing touchdown to tie Eric Dickerson for second in franchise history with 56. Jackson’s one reception gave him 400 for his career.
Tight end Lance Kendricks scored on an 80-yard touchdown play, the longest reception in franchise history by a tight end. The record had been held by Leon Clarke, who had a 70-yard touchdown catch in 1957. Kendricks had four receptions for 119 yards, the first 100-yard game of his career.