ST. LOUIS -- For a month, Steven Jackson carried the St. Louis Rams' offense on his aching back. After one game without him, coach Steve Spagnuolo demonstrated without speaking how much it would mean if he returned for the season finale.
The coach paused, tilted his head toward the ceiling and clasped his hands as if in prayer before giving an answer.
"I'll leave that up to Steven," Spagnuolo said Monday. "I trust him. Every day with the injury he has sometimes it changes, but I'm hopeful."
Jackson was a surprise scratch for Sunday's 31-10 loss at Arizona. He confirmed after the game that he's been playing with a herniated disk that will not require surgery, and that he anticipates playing this weekend against San Francisco (7-8).
"It's just one of those things that's week to week," Jackson said after the game. "Me playing on it doesn't make things worse."
But he stressed he didn't want to hurt the team, either.
"I didn't want to go out there for selfish reasons, for personal goals, or trying to have a streak to prove to people," Jackson said. "It's one of those decisions where I felt that it was in the best interest of the team and myself that I at least try to give myself a week to kind of come back strongly against San Francisco."
The Rams (1-14) demonstrated they could score a handful of points and remain the front-runner for the No. 1 overall pick of the draft with or without him. Backups Chris Ogbonnaya and Kenneth Darby were effective, combining for 85 yards on 20 carries, but the Rams were unable to overcome another error-prone performance from rookie quarterback Keith Null.
Null threw three interceptions Sunday and has committed 10 turnovers in three starts, and could get another shot. Spagnuolo would not tip his hand but said he never considered switching to veteran Kyle Boller during the game.
Spagnuolo said Null's improved play in a 3-point loss to the Texans the previous week factored heavily into his decision against the Cardinals.
St. Louis is the lone one-win team in the NFL after picking second overall in the 2008 and 2007 drafts, going a combined 6-41 over that sorry stretch. A loss in the finale against the 49ers would ensure them the first shot at Nebraska defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh in next year's draft. If they upset the 49ers and Detroit loses, the Lions (2-13) would likely get the top pick based on strength of schedule.
Rams opponents were 126-114 before Monday's game, while Lions opponents were 124-116.
Spagnuolo said that type of talk can wait.
"I'll worry about that in a couple of weeks," Spagnuolo said. "We're neck and neck in trying to win a game. It's the last one and we're going to play it to win it."
The Rams are averaging an NFL-worst 11 points per game but they're seventh in the NFC in rushing due to the contributions of the 235-pound Jackson. He's second in the NFL with 1,353 yards rushing and fourth with 1,675 yards from scrimmage despite the back woes.
Still, the offense has been limited to one touchdown or fewer in 12 games and got its lone TD Sunday on rookie Brandon Gibson's leaping catch in the back of the end zone.
The Rams also have 13 players on injured reserve, increasing the degree of difficulty for a team that was thin to start the season. More than half of the players on the roster were undrafted and three players made their debut on Sunday -- Ogbonnaya, guard Roger Allen III and wide receiver Cord Parks.
Ogbonnaya was a seventh-round draft pick, Allen was undrafted out of Division II Missouri Western and Parks was undrafted out of Northeastern and spent all season on the practice squad before getting his first chance on special teams on Sunday. Allen is set to start the finale in place of Mark Setterstrom, who'll probably require surgery for a torn left triceps.