NFC West: Curtis Martin


Dan from Toledo, Ohio, has a problem with the implication that running back Steven Jackson would have a better shot of winning a championship by leaving the St. Louis Rams.

"Nobody knows who is going to the Super Bowl, so Steven better make a good choice," Dan writes. "Who says the Rams can't win the Super Bowl this year? Who thought the Rams were going to be that good in 1999?"

Sando: The Rams are improving, but even they would likely acknowledge other teams are closer to championship form at this time. The bottom line is that Jackson would remain in St. Louis if the Rams were willing to pay him $7 million in salary. They weren't willing to pay him that much. That is why they gave him the ability to void his contract.

What Jackson thinks of the Rams is less interesting than what the market thinks of Jackson. Players seeking to discover their value sometimes do not like what they find.

Jackson is 29 years old, and his production has slipped in recent seasons. He finished last season with numbers nearly identical to the ones he posted in 2008. The difference was that he played only 12 games in 2008 and 16 games last season.

However, some accomplished backs, such as Curtis Martin, Tony Dorsett, Ricky Watters and Warrick Dunn, remained productive at that age. Each topped 1,000 yards rushing for the final two times at ages 30 and 31. Jackson might be able to do the same if given the opportunity.

Back to the original comment from Dan regarding St. Louis possibly contending in 2013. There is every reason to expect continued improvement the Rams, even though improving from 7-8-1, their record in 2012, is tougher than improving from 2-14, their 2011 record.

Would Jackson, uninterested in a reduced role with St. Louis, accept one for a team he perceives as closer to contending for a title?

"I'm definitely going to have to [have] open ears and be open to all talks, but I don't know what teams want unless I made myself available," Jackson told "SportsCenter" on Friday. "Doing so, it was a very tough decision to leave St. Louis, but when we started talking about reduced roles and what they see me in the future with the organization, it has to fit and make sure that I could fit in the locker room as well as other players."

Around the NFC West: 49ers hail Gore

January, 22, 2013
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Frank Gore, already the San Francisco 49ers' career rushing leader, is headed to the Super Bowl in New Orleans.

His head coach and one prominent teammate have suggested another destination for Gore: the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio.

Jim Harbaugh and quarterback Colin Kaepernick mentioned Gore in that vein during separate interviews three days apart.

Kaepernick on Jan. 18: "He's going to be a Hall of Fame running back."

That was before Gore rushed for 90 yards and two touchdowns in the 49ers' 28-24 victory over Atlanta in the NFC Championship Game.

Harbaugh made a similar mention Sunday, shortly after beating the Falcons.

"I really believe he’ll be in the Hall of Fame someday," Harbaugh said.

Gore has 8,839 yards rushing since entering the NFL as a third-round draft choice in 2005. Two players, Steven Jackson (9,462) and Adrian Peterson (8,849), have more rushing yards over that span.

Hall of Famer Joe Perry had most of his 9,723 career rushing yards with the 49ers. The running back most recently enshrined, Curtis Martin, had 14,101 yards and 90 rushing touchdowns.

How Gore runs -- low to the ground and with much more power than his size suggests he should possess -- distinguishes him beyond the statistics. He and Steven Jackson are linked in my mind as running backs with the determination to play hard always regardless of game or season circumstances. It's good to see players such as them get a shot at the Super Bowl.

Final Word: NFC West

December, 28, 2012
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NFC Final Word: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Five nuggets of knowledge about Week 17:

Three of a kind. Not since 1991 have three NFC West teams finished a season with winning records. It could happen in 2012 if the St. Louis Rams upset the Seattle Seahawks on Sunday. The Rams would finish 8-7-1 with a victory. Seattle and San Francisco already have 10 victories apiece. The 1991 NFC West race finished with New Orleans (11-5), Atlanta (10-6) and San Francisco (10-6) ahead of the Los Angeles Rams (3-13). Also with a victory, the Rams would become the second team since the merger to post an undefeated division record without qualifying for postseason.

[+] EnlargeSteven Jackson
Kevin Hoffman/USA TODAY Sports Steven Jackson is nearing another milestone. closing in on his eighth consecutive 1,000-yard season.
Making history. The Seahawks have never finished a season ranked first in fewest points allowed. Seattle enters Week 17 having allowed 232 points, fewest in the NFL by 21 points. Chicago has allowed 253. The 49ers have allowed 260. Seattle has allowed 17 or fewer points in its past four games, the Seahawks' longest streak since 2003 and 2004.

Milestone weekend. Steven Jackson, Russell Wilson and Aldon Smith are chasing milestones as the regular season wraps up.

The Rams' Jackson needs 10 yards rushing for his eighth consecutive 1,000-yard season, which would tie LaDainian Tomlinson and Thurman Thomas for fourth behind Emmitt Smith (11), Curtis Martin (10) and Barry Sanders (10).

Seattle's Wilson has 25 touchdown passes, within one of Peyton Manning's rookie record. Wilson, with a 98.0 NFL passer rating, also has a shot at breaking Matt Hasselbeck's single-season franchise record (98.2).

Smith, with 19.5 sacks, needs three to break Michael Strahan's single-season record for sacks. Houston's J.J. Watt (20.5) is nearer the record, however.

Stopping the bleeding. The 49ers have been outscored by 50 points and allowed more than 700 yards over their past five-plus quarters. That is nearly as much yardage as the 49ers allowed over a 12-quarter stretch of games against Chicago, New Orleans and St. Louis. The trend is about to end. The 49ers' Week 17 opponent, Arizona, has 735 yards in its past four games. The Cardinals' Brian Hoyer is making his first NFL start at quarterback.

Crabtree's time. The NFC West is in danger of finishing without a 1,000-yard receiver for the first time since the NFL realigned into eight four-team divisions in 2002. The 49ers' Michael Crabtree needs 67 yards against Arizona to become the team's first 1,000-yard receiver since Terrell Owens in 2003. Arizona's Larry Fitzgerald needs 215 yards to reach 1,000 for the sixth consecutive season. Seattle's Sidney Rice needs 252 yards for 1,000. Crabtree is averaging 91.5 yards per game since Week 13, sixth-most in the NFL.

ESPN Stats & Information contributed to this item.

HOF12: Curtis Martin's amazing story

August, 4, 2012
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CANTON, Ohio -- Curtis Martin won his bet to make it through his Pro Football Hall of Fame speech without crying.

Did anyone else?

Martin, in accepting his enshrinement to the Pro Football Hall of Fame, shared details about his life that would wrench the hardest heart: the murders of his grandmother and aunt; the manner in which his father tortured his mother; the time someone held a gun to his head and pulled the trigger seven times, only to have a bullet discharge on the eighth pull, when the gun was pointed elsewhere.

This was as moving a speech as I can recall hearing.

That Martin would survive all this and grow into a man with the wherewithal to nurture his mother to health? That, together, they would forgive his father?

It's a good thing Martin's speech came last. No one could have followed him.

Martin closed by saying he hoped his daughter, when delivering his eulogy years from now, would speak not of the yards he gained, but of the man he became. He hoped she would speak of having sought a man of similar character. He hoped she would, in closing his eulogy, leave mourners with a footnote.

"Oh yeah," she would say, "he was a pretty good football player."

Martin's presenter, retired coach Bill Parcells, spoke of his former player's great balance. Martin's speech showed the same quality. He balanced those emotional reflections with humor. And he showed great wisdom.

Martin busted on fellow enshrinee Willie Roaf for suggesting the Class of 2012 go for pedicures this week. He joked about Cortez Kennedy speaking for so long that God decided to turn off the lights.

Martin again found the right balance when discussing player safety issues, particularly whether he'd feel OK about his own child playing the game, were Martin to have a son.

Two previously enshrined Hall of Famers -- I could not identify them from a distance -- rose and applauded when Martin provided a thoughtful answer. Martin said he never sought football or loved it, but he learned life lessons from it through Parcells, through his former high school coach and through experiences on the field.

"If kids can learn what I learned from playing the game," Martin said in words to that effect, "I'd let him play. It would be worth the risk."

Martin rushed for 102 yards and the winning touchdown in his first regular-season NFL game. Parcells, upon seeing reporters gather around Martin's locker for postgame interviews, let it be known Martin was merely a "one-game wonder."

Before too long, "one-game wonder" would give way to "Boy Wonder" as Parcells' preferred nickname for Martin. The more flattering moniker survives to this day, for good reason. Martin opened his career with 10 consecutive 1,000-yard seasons, an NFL record shared by another Hall of Famer, Barry Sanders.

Martin turned out to be a pretty good football player, all right, and so much more.

CANTON, Ohio -- Dermontti Dawson, the fifth of six Pro Football Hall of Fame enshrinees to speak Saturday night, thanked his parents for the guidance they provided over the years.

The other modern-day finalists preceding Dawson at the podium -- Willie Roaf, Chris Doleman and Cortez Kennedy -- made similar comments.

Curtis Martin, the final enshrinee scheduled to speak, will tell a different story. He'll surely pay tribute to his mother, but so many other factors in his life worked against him. His father left the family when Martin was 4. His grandmother was stabbed to death in brutal fashion when Martin was 9.

Martin never dreamed of the Hall of Fame; at one point, his goal while growing up in a rough Pittsburgh neighborhood was simply reaching age 21. The speech he delivers Saturday night has the potential to pack a different type of emotional punch.
CANTON, Ohio -- New Orleans Saints players gave Cortez Kennedy a standing ovation early in the Pro Football Hall of Fame enshrinement program Saturday.

They won't be sticking around for Kennedy's speech, however.

The Saints, scheduled to open their exhibition season against the Arizona Cardinals in the same Fawcett Stadium on Sunday, left their seats and disappeared behind the end-zone grandstands once former New Orleans tackle Willie Roaf finished his acceptance speech.

Roaf led off the Hall program. Jack Butler's time is now, followed by Chris Doleman and then Kennedy. Dermontti Dawson and Curtis Martin round out the proceedings.

Kennedy played for the Seattle Seahawks, but he works as an adviser to the Saints. He collected a Super Bowl ring with the Saints following the 2009 season.
CANTON, Ohio -- Welcome to Fawcett Stadium for the 2012 Pro Football Hall of Fame enshrinement ceremony.

I'll be blogging throughout the proceedings, as you might have noticed when this post went live a bit earlier. First, a look at the order for enshrinement and speeches for the program, which begins at 7 p.m. ET:
  • Willie Roaf: This one promises to be emotional, as anyone who witness the way Roaf's father, Clifton, hugged him during the Gold Jacket Dinner presentation Friday night. Clifton Roaf is presenting his son. The Hall encourages presenters to limit their comments to eight minutes in duration. That could be tough for the elder Roaf.
  • Jack Butler: Butler had to wait a record 50 years for enshrinement. He won't have to wait long Saturday night. The Hall has him going second.
  • Chris Doleman: The former Minnesota, Atlanta and San Francisco defensive end offered some thoughts Friday on the state of the game. I hope to share those a bit later.
  • Cortez Kennedy: The second career Seahawk to earn enshrinement will have some time to gather his thoughts. He's fourth in the order.
  • Dermontti Dawson: One of the greatest interior offensive linemen follows one of the greatest interior defensive linemen.
  • Curtis Martin: Bill Parcells is presenting Martin. Parcells could be back as an enshrinee before long. Parcells does have some star power. Having him go last wasn't a bad idea.

Should be a memorable night.
CANTON, Ohio -- Cortez Kennedy's private car joined the police escort from the McKinley Grand Hotel and headed for one of his new homes, the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

What a ride it was Friday, and what a ride it's been for all the Hall of Famers selected to the Class of 2012.

"It's so cool to put that 'HOF 2012' on it," Kennedy said while putting his autograph on a piece of memorabilia for a friend.

Kennedy and the other 2012 enshrinees -- Jack Butler, Chris Doleman, Dermontti Dawson, Curtis Martin and Willie Roaf -- have arrived at the Hall and are seated outside among dozens of enshrinees. Buffalo Bills owner Ralph Wilson is speaking now at the dedication for the Hall's latest addition, the Ralph Wilson Jr. Pro Football Research and Preservation Center.

It's an awesome sight.

I'm seated in the first row of the spectator section, about six feet away from Gale Sayers and Joe Greene. Warren Moon, John Hannah, James Lofton, Lynn Swann and Willie Roaf are clearly recognizable across the way.

Wilson has just finished speaking. Commissioner Roger Goodell is succeeding him at the podium. We're about to head inside for a look at the new expansion. My notepad is quickly filling with material. Can't wait to share more of it on the blog.

I've got a couple other posts scheduled to run while I continue to gather. There's a luncheon to attend after this visit to the Hall, followed perhaps an hour later by media availability to the Class of 2012.

Greene, Thurman Thomas and other Hall of Famers are snapping photos while Wilson, Goodell, Moon and others cut the red ribbons.

Back as time permits.

HOF12: Finding 'Tez' in Canton

August, 3, 2012
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CANTON, Ohio -- One second you're driving along Interstate 77 from Cleveland to Canton. The next second you're face to face with the Pro Football Hall of Fame's Class of 2012.

It's a sight for any football fan to behold.

Football's hallowed Hall sits closer to the interstate than I would have imagined. Exterior lighting illuminates the colorful posters featuring each new enshrinee's mugshot. Jack Butler, Dermontti Dawson, Chris Doleman, Cortez Kennedy, Curtis Martin and Willie Roaf on public display.

[+] EnlargeCortez Kennedy
US PresswireNo doubt, Seattle's Cortez Kennedy was one of the most dominant defensive players of his era.
The enshrinement ceremony isn't til Saturday, but each new Hall of Famer has been building to this moment since his selection in early February.

A glance at the rear-view mirror while approaching the Hall late Thursday night revealed no cars in sight. I touched the brakes on my rental car to process the visual.

From there it was on the McKinley Grand Hotel, where the Hall of Famers are staying.

Security officials have limited access to guests only. At least one Hall of Famer was sitting on a bench out front when I arrived, a gold jacket revealing his status as one of the very best to ever play the game. Darkness had fallen and I couldn't positively identify him.

A familiar face awaited near the hotel entrance. Kennedy has cut so much weight, he looks more like a big linebacker than the defensive tackle with the most Pro Bowls during the 1990s (eight). I'd guess he's in the low 260s, down from the 300- to 320-pound range during his playing days.

"Kennedy!" shouted a fan standing down on the corner, behind the security line.

My role as the Hall selector for the Seattle market included the honor of presenting Kennedy's credentials to the other selectors during our annual meeting one day before the Super Bowl.

The process had provided an opportunity to speak with Kennedy regularly and know him better. He was always grateful for any efforts on his behalf, but he never campaigned for support. That wouldn't be his style.

I'd gotten to know Kennedy a little while covering the Seahawks for the Tacoma News Tribune during his final three seasons, ending in 2000. Polite and reserved, Kennedy wasn't much use for reporters. He wouldn't speak off the record, said little on it and seemed determined to keep a low profile. His play would do his talking.

I've found Kennedy to be much more engaging outside the player-reporter context. He's got a sense of humor and the cackle to go with it. Kennedy has been a happy man during the six months since learning this would be his year, but he's continued to lay low. There has been no media tour.

Kennedy and the other new Hall of Famers are scheduled to give nationally televised speeches at the enshrinement ceremony Saturday. Kennedy doesn't like to talk about himself, but I'm thinking he'll enjoy the moment.

It's not every day your face flies on a banner atop the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Andy from Des Moines, Iowa asks whether Pro Football Hall of Famers were disproportionately early draft choices.


Mike Sando: Yes, that is definitely the case. The Hall of Fame lists them by round. I also track this information. By my count, 143 of 188 drafted Hall of Famers were chosen in the first three rounds. That is 76.1 percent. That includes 94 first-round selections, 29 second-rounders and 20 third-rounders.

No players drafted after 1995 have been enshrined to this point.

Curtis Martin, named as part of the 2012 class, was a third-round choice in 1995. The previous six drafts have produced eight Hall of Famers, and all eight were first-round choices: Marshall Faulk, Willie Roaf, Cortez Kennedy, Emmitt Smith, Troy Aikman, Barry Sanders, Derrick Thomas and Deion Sanders.

Later-round picks fared better long ago, when the draft had many more rounds. The NFL went from 17 to 12 rounds in 1977, then to eight in 1993 and seven the following year.

The chart below shows round-by-round distribution for drafted Hall of Famers since the 1983 class produced six Hall of Famers in the first round, the most for any first round.

Players drafted in first rounds tend to have more talent. They also tend to get every opportunity to succeed. The combination of those factors explains why more of them have found their way to Canton, in my view.

Alexander and beyond: Considering RBs

February, 7, 2012
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Statistics can vault a running back into consideration for the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

They are not everything in every case, of course, but if you're the the NFL's all-time rushing leader at this point in league history, the case for consideration might not require going much deeper.

As promised, I've broken out where Shaun Alexander and other notable backs from current NFC West franchises stand in relation to 2012 finalists Curtis Martin and Jerome Bettis.

Martin was one of the five players selected for enshrinement. Bettis did not make it this time; he could in the future. It's tempting to evaluate each Hall class as though it reflects a definitive assessment of which players do or do not belong in Canton. But with only five spots for 15 annual modern-era finalists, the process actually plays out over many years.

The best usually candidates get enshrined, and when they do not, they qualify for special consideration by the seniors committee.

Back to the backs. How a runner runs also counts for something. Earl Campbell, one of the most punishing runners in NFL history, earned enshrinement with stats virtually identical to those for Alexander. I was not yet a Hall selector when Campbell was enshrined, but his running style and how it affected his longevity presumably worked in his favor.

Alexander becomes eligible for consideration in 2014.

The chart ranks backs by where they rank on the all-time rushing yardage list. I've also included information for receptions and, in the final column, the number of Pro Bowls and first-team Associated Press All-Pro selections, available on Pro Football Reference. Other factors -- impact as a receiver, postseason success, etc. -- also come into play.

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INDIANAPOLIS -- Thirteen modern-era NFL players were finalists for enshrinement Saturday in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

Only one was named offensive or defensive player of the year during his career.

That was the Seattle Seahawks' Cortez Kennedy. His eight Pro Bowls, all-1990s selection and overall dominance made my job as his presenter quite simple. State the facts and let Kennedy's career do the talking. Picking the final five out of 15 modern-era finalists is always tough, however, because it usually requires leaving off worthy candidates.

[+] EnlargeCortez Kennedy
US PresswireNo doubt, Seattle's Cortez Kennedy was one of the most dominant defensive players of his era.
The 43 other selectors and I met for more than seven hours before identifying Kennedy, Chris Doleman, Dermontti Dawson, Curtis Martin and Willie Roaf as the class of 2012. Jack Butler made it as a seniors candidate.

A few thoughts on the process and the results:

  • This class made it through at a good time. Larry Allen, Michael Strahan, Jonathan Ogden, Warren Sapp, Bryant Young, John Lynch and Steve McNair become eligible for the first time in 2013. Shaun Alexander, Derrick Brooks, Marvin Harrison, Rodney Harrison, Tony Dungy and Mike Holmgren join the list in 2014. Isaac Bruce, Edgerrin James, Walter Jones, Junior Seau, Chris Samuels, Kurt Warner, Ty Law and Orlando Pace are among those eligible beginning in 2015.
  • Former St. Louis Rams
    and Arizona Cardinals
    cornerback Aeneas Williams should feel great about cracking the final 10 in his first year as a finalist. Williams had 55 career interceptions and scored nine touchdowns. He was a big-time playmaker for bad and good teams alike.
  • The situation at receiver remains a mess and it's not going to get easier with Harrison becoming eligible in a couple years. Voters are having a tough time deciding between Cris Carter and Andre Reed. Both made the final 10 this year. Reed made the final 10 last year as well. Having both crack the final 10 this year made it harder for one of them to break through. Voters were more likely to choose one wideout when forced to pick only five players.
  • Former San Francisco 49ers owner Eddie DeBartolo Jr. did not make the reduction from 15 to 10. I think it's tougher for voters to quantify how owners and even coaches -- think Bill Parcells, who missed the cut from 10 to five -- contributed to their teams' success. The discussions for Parcells (55-plus minutes) and DeBartolo (42-plus minutes) were more than twice as long as the discussions for other candidates. Hall bylaws prevented voters from considering the legal troubles and suspension that preceded DeBartolo's exit from the game.
  • DeBartolo was a finalist in part because he hired Bill Walsh, promoted a winning culture, cared tremendously for his players and helped win five Super Bowls. He spent this weekend with former 49ers player Freddie Solomon, who is in the final days of a battle with cancer. The 49ers' renewed success this past season also reflected well on DeBartolo, who has become a tremendous resource for current team president Jed York, his nephew.
  • Electing one pass-rusher (Doleman, who spent part of his career with the 49ers) to the Hall could give former 49ers and Dallas Cowboys pass-rusher Charles Haley an easier time in the future. But with Strahan joining the conversation in 2013, Haley faces stiff competition again. Former Rams pass-rusher Kevin Greene did not make the final 10 despite 160 career sacks.

It's been a whirlwind day. Hall bylaws prevent me from sharing specifics about what was said in the room during the proceedings. The Hall also asked voters not to reveal their votes outright. I voted for five of the six players enshrined on the final cut and supported others. As always, however, reducing to only five in the end required leaving off candidates I hope will make it in the future.
The San Francisco 49ers' resurgence this season recalls the team's greatest years.

How appropriate, then, that Eddie DeBartolo Jr. has emerged as a Pro Football Hall of Fame finalist for the first time. DeBartolo and former St. Louis/Arizona defensive back Aeneas Williams add NFC West flavor to the proceedings as first-time finalists for the Hall. I'll be among those casting votes when the selection committee gathers during Super Bowl week.

No more than five of the maximum 15 modern-era finalists can qualify for enshrinement in a given year. That makes handicapping a candidate's chances difficult. Worthy finalists miss the cut every year, in my view. They must wait their turn while other worthy finalists gain enshrinement.

Without slam-dunk candidates such as Emmitt Smith or Jerry Rice on the ballot this year, the door could open for some who have waited their turn recently. Cortez Kennedy, Charles Haley, Jerome Bettis, Chris Doleman and Kevin Greene are among the finalists with ties to franchises currently in the NFC West. Kennedy made the final 10 last year.

Also among the modern-era finalists: Tim Brown, Cris Carter, Dermontti Dawson, Curtis Martin, Bill Parcells, Andre Reed, Willie Roaf and Will Shields. Jack Butler and Dick Stanfel are eligible as seniors nominees. Their enshrinement would not come at the expense of the maximum five slots for modern-era finalists.

Rams regular-season wrap-up

January, 4, 2012
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NFC Wrap-ups: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Arrow indicates direction team is trending.

Final Power Ranking: 31
Preseason Power Ranking: 17

[+] EnlargeSam Bradford
Jay Drowns/Getty ImagesSam Bradford could not build on a promising rookie campaign and struggled in his second season.
Biggest surprise: The Rams ranked eighth in sacks per pass attempt, one spot ahead of the 13-3 San Francisco 49ers, even though they rarely forced opponents into obvious passing situations. Chris Long broke out with a career-high 13 sacks. Long had been improving since moving to the left side. There were indications he might hit double digits for sacks if the Rams forced opponents into obvious passing situations frequently enough. Long came within a half-sack of matching his combined total for the 2009-10 seasons.

Biggest disappointment: Failing to build on Sam Bradford's promising rookie season. Bradford was the NFL's offensive rookie of the year after setting rookie records for completions (354) and pass attempts (590). Only Peyton Manning had thrown for more yards than Bradford as an NFL rookie. There were challenges this season with the lockout, a tough early schedule and all that goes with learning a new scheme. Bradford and first-year coordinator Josh McDaniels liked their chances, but the offense suffered huge setbacks when injuries sidelined Steven Jackson and Danny Amendola in the season opener. The Rams approached the season eager to see how Jackson, Amendola, Brandon Gibson, Mike Hoomanawanui and Lance Kendricks functioned together. That group never took a snap together. Bradford completed only 53.5 percent of his passes. He took 36 sacks in 10 starts and threw for only six touchdowns.

Biggest need: Offensive playmakers. Bradford completed only 1 of 16 attempts in goal-to-go situations. For perspective, consider that Tampa Bay's Josh Freeman, another young quarterback facing struggles in 2011, completed 14 of 20 passes with eight touchdowns in these situations. Picking up Brandon Lloyd by trade helped, but the veteran receiver might wind up being a one-year rental. Lloyd's contract expires in March. The man influential in bringing him to St. Louis, McDaniels, might not be back. The Rams need to draft a difference- maker at receiver. That could be tough to justify with so many needs elsewhere on the roster.

Team MVP: Jackson was an obvious choice. If only he hadn't strained a quadriceps while breaking a 47-yard touchdown run against Philadelphia on his first carry of the season. That injury limited Jackson to six carries over the first three games. Jackson still topped 1,100 yards for the season. He joined Emmitt Smith, Thurman Thomas, Curtis Martin, Barry Sanders, Eric Dickerson and LaDainian Tomlinson as the only players with seven consecutive 1,000-yard seasons. He rushed for 159, 130 and 128 yards during a three-game stretch when the Rams went 2-1.

Starting over up front: The offensive line was supposed to be a strength for St. Louis after the team signed guard Harvey Dahl in free agency. Dahl held up his end, but the rest of the line fell apart. Rodger Saffold will be back at left tackle or somewhere along the line. Dahl will return. Right tackle Jason Smith, chosen second overall in 2009, will not return at his current salary. Center Jason Brown lost his starting job during the season. Left guard Jacob Bell took a pay reduction and a one-year deal right before the season. The team has not developed young depth on the line. How will the team protect Bradford?

Silver linings: Rams at Steelers

December, 26, 2011
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The facts: The St. Louis Rams fell to 2-13 with a 27-0 road defeat to the Pittsburgh Steelers in Week 16.

The upside: Even the worst defeats tend to feature a bright spot or two.
  • Steven Jackson carried 24 times for 103 yards, his fourth 100-yard game of the season and 31st of his career. Only Ray Rice and Arian Foster had topped 100 yards against the Steelers previously this season.
  • Jackson joined Emmitt Smith, LaDainian Tomlinson, Eric Dickerson, Curtis Martin, Thurman Thomas and Barry Sanders as the only running backs with seven consecutive 1,000-yard rushing seasons.
  • Cornerback Josh Gordy picked off a pass for the second game in a row.
  • Nick Miller had a 17-yard punt return and a 10.3-yard average.
  • The Rams committed no turnovers. In fact, they became the first team since at least 1940 to rush for 164-plus yards and commit no turnovers while getting shut out by 27 or more points. I'm not sure whether that counts as a silver lining, but it's an amazing note.
  • The Rams held the Steelers to one third-down conversion in seven attempts, one reason they narrowly won time of possession.
  • Rookie Robert Quinn had a tackle for loss.
Looking ahead: The Rams close the regular season with a home game against the San Francisco 49ers.

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