Steven Jackson has been around for enough of the bad times in St. Louis to appreciate what it means to still be in the playoff hunt at this time of year.
Slim as the Rams' hopes might be, Jackson's going to enjoy this as much — and for as long — as he can.
"At this point in December, for us to still have meaningful games, for guys to come collectively together as a team, it means a lot," the veteran running back said. "This team is definitely showing growth and maturity."
After five consecutive losing seasons, the Rams (6-6-1) took their latest step forward under first-year coach Jeff Fisher with a 15-12 win over the Buffalo Bills on Sunday. A week after rallying St. Louis to a 16-13 overtime win over San Francisco, quarterback Sam Bradford produced his second consecutive fourth-quarter comeback with a 13-yard touchdown pass to Brandon Gibson with 48 seconds remaining.
They've now won three straight for the first time since closing the 2006 season with a 3-0 finish. They won on cold, wet day, with temperatures in the high 30s and a light rain falling for much of the second half. And victory came on the road, where the Rams were 1-3-1 this season, and 8-36-1 since 2007.
"I think this team grew up a little more today," Bradford said. "When it mattered, the guys stepped up and made plays."
The defense did its part by making five sacks and forcing two turnovers, including when linebacker Jo-Lonn Dunbar ended the Bills' final drive by intercepting Ryan Fitzpatrick pass.
And then there was Bradford, who directed the decisive 14-play, 84-yard drive in which he twice converted on third down, and also hit receiver Austin Pettis while facing fourth-and-1.
"Sam's not a guy who gets flustered," Fisher said.
No, that's the M.O. of a Bills team that at 5-8 continues to find ways to lose, and is all but mathematically certain of extending the NFL's longest active playoff drought to 13 years.
"Yeah, we have to develop a killer instinct," Fitzpatrick said. "As an offense, we have to put them away, and we didn't do that today."
The offense settled for two field goals and running back Fred Jackson's fumble in three drives inside the Rams 25 in the first half.
And the defense unraveled when it mattered by squandering a lead in the final 70 seconds for the second time at home this season. The other time that happened came in 35-34 loss to Tennessee on Oct. 21.
What's worse, safety George Wilson twice had chances to intercept Bradford on the final drive, only to drop the ball each time.
"You have to be a finisher in this league," Wilson said. "Those are the plays you replay over and over in your head, wishing that the ball would've bounced your way."
Much of the blame is starting to be directed at third-year head coach Chan Gailey, who was once again being second-guessed for his play-calling.
Despite having three timeouts, and the ball on the Rams 34 with 38 seconds left in the second quarter, the Bills mismanaged the clock by getting off only three plays for 10 yards before settling for Rian Lindell's 40-yard field goal.
And questions remained as to why Gailey was overly cautious in limiting the workload of running back C.J. Spiller, the team's most dynamic weapon. Despite leading the NFL in averaging 6.62 yards per carry, Spiller only had three carries for 27 yards in the second half, and finished with seven carries for 37 yards.
Gailey chalked it up to his two-back rotation. And when it came time to run the ball, Jackson happened to be the one on the field.
"Bottom line, we could not make plays," Gailey said. "It is a bitter pill to swallow."
NOTES: Fitzpatrick finished 25 of 33 for 247 yards with a 2-yard touchdown to Lee Smith, and an interception. ... Bradford finished 19 of 39 for 209 yards, an interception and hit Chris Givens on a 2-point conversion. ... Jackson had 64 yards rushing and scored on a 1-yard plunge, while Gibson made six catch for 100 yards. ... Bills DE Mario Williams had a sack, his sixth in four games to give him a team-leading 10½. ... Bills RB Fred Jackson's status is uncertain after he was carted off from the sideline after hurting his right leg late in the fourth quarter.
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