It will go down in the record books as another defeat, but the Rams’ 20-13 loss in Seattle Sunday was so much more.
No, the Rams didn’t finish the season with a winning record. And, no, they didn’t end up undefeated in division games.
But, they did end the season knowing what they are capable of as a team, and, most important, also knowing what they have to do to be better. They resoundingly have reflected the personality of their coach, which is the most important ingredient established during the 7-8-1 season.
Afterward, coach Jeff Fisher acknowledged, “We have a lot of work to do. But if we sit back and get away from it a little bit and start to do our assessment, I think we'll come away feeling like we made strides. We took advantage of the opportunity to play a lot of young players. Playing time for young players is essential for their improvement, so we expect to see them improve over the next couple of years.
“We've got some work to do, but we ended up with a healthy football team at the end of the year, which is a positive thing for us. All 53 practiced on Friday, and we really didn't have any setbacks today. I think the guys are going to get away, which we'll talk about tomorrow, get refreshed and recharged and come back with some optimism. I think those guys in that room can stand up and look deep in the eyes and say, 'Hey, the Rams are back.' That's what we wanted to accomplish this year.”
Consider it mission accomplished. Which is why running back Steven Jackson wants so badly to be back.
Lost amid the exaggerated reactions to supposed retirement talk last week was what Jackson said when asked about never have been on a Rams team with a winning record: “We’ve been 8-8 two times, so I’ve come to understand in this league that it is truly year-to-year. What coach Fisher has brought to this organization, the credibility that (will be) going on in the future, I definitely see a very bright future for this organization, and why wouldn’t I want to be a part of that?”
That says it all. Sunday, after becoming just the sixth running back ever to reach 1,000 rushing yards in eight consecutive seasons, Jackson told his teammates he “bleeds blue and gold.”
Said quarterback Sam Bradford, when asked how much he wants Jackson back in 2013, "I don't even think I could tell you how much I would like to see him back here. I am going to beg him to stay. He told us after the game that he bleeds blue and gold and he wants to be here so hopefully we can make it work because like I said he is so valuable to this team and to this locker room. To have him coming back would mean a lot.
"You can't say enough about Jack (Jackson). What he means to this football team. What he does on the field, in the locker room, off the field, he is so valuable to this team and this organization. I can't thank him enough just for what he has done for me over the past three years and for him to become only the sixth guy in history to do that, it just tells you what type of player he is."
When asked last week whether he would personally lobby for Jackson’s return, Fisher said, “I don’t think that’s going to be required. I think everybody in the building would like to have him back. It’s just matter of us sitting down and working things out.
“He's a great team player and a great teammate. He loves to play the game, and he's unselfish. It's been a great experience for me to stand on the sideline and watch him carry the ball this year.”
Offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer said coaching Jackson “has been awesome.” He added, “I didn’t know much about Steven when I first got here. Obviously, followed and knowing about his success, but to watch the way he works in the classroom, watch the way he prepares, watch the way he works out here has been awesome. Just to see him have the continued success. At that position in this league, it’s hard to do. So, you cheer for a guy like that.”
After Sunday’s game, Jackson stated simply, “I definitely plan on playing next season.”
When asked about his comments about retirement, Jackson said, “What I said was, I will seek all options, and that is something that’s an option for me.” To which he then said, “I love the game of football. I have a lot left in my tank – and let’s just get the deal done. How about that?”
The deal, of course, is key. Scheduled to be paid $7 million in 2013, the final year of his contract, Jackson can void that year on Feb. 8 and become a free agent. If he doesn’t, it would then be the Rams’ decision whether to pay him $7 million.
However, even Jackson realizes a renegotiated contract has to happen for him to return. He said Sunday, “My agent and the (Rams) will sit down. This organization has been first-class with me. To even give me the chance to be a free agent, that just shows the respect that we have for each other. We’re going to keep an open mind and hope to get this done.”