ST. LOUIS (AP) - Steven Jackson anticipated the usual heavy load in the game that decided the NFC West - and it just never came.
Jackson led the NFL in carries and total touches after 15 games, but had a season-low 11 attempts as the St. Louis offense fizzled with a season-worst 184 yards total offense in Sunday's 16-6 loss at Seattle. The Rams' lone Pro Bowl representative took the high road Monday, saying all he could control was what he did with his opportunities.
"That's pretty much all you can do individually, and hope your own individual efforts collectively turn out to be positive," Jackson said.
But Jackson also said the franchise needed upgrades on offense to be truly competitive. Jackson's string of six consecutive 1,000-yard seasons is the best active streak in the NFL as well as a franchise record, but he had to slog through defenses stacked to stop the run and make rookie Sam Bradford beat them throwing to unknowns.
"I trust that our front office will make whatever decisions they feel are best for the team," Jackson said. "Whatever that is, rest assured I'll be ready. I'll come back hungrier than ever."
The Seahawks ran 71 plays, the Rams only 54 while going 2-for-14 on third-down conversions against a team that had lost seven of nine. Underutilized or not, Jackson still accounted for 81 yards of the meager total.
Spagnuolo scolded reporters for wanting to see more of Jackson, saying he'd been criticized all season for being too conservative.
"Had we run the ball too much, we'd be asking how come we didn't throw it?" Spagnuolo said. "What we tried to do is score as many points we could. We didn't get very many, but that was the intent."
The defense allowed only 16 points and held the Seahawks to 4-for-15 on third down. But they couldn't sack unheralded Charlie Whitehurst and allowed the NFL's worst rushing game to gain 141 yards.
"You have an opportunity that doesn't come around all the time, and you want to be able to seize it," linebacker James Laurinaitis said.
As bad as the Rams looked in the stinker that ended their feel-good rise from 1-15 sad sacks to contenders in the NFL's lowliest division, Spagnuolo said one play might have changed everything. The Seahawks led 10-6 in the third quarter when rookie wide receiver Danario Alexander had a step on the defense and then whiffed on what would been at least a 40-yard play.
"You just hit one play," Spagnuolo said, "and it's all different."
Wide receiver is expected to be an area of emphasis in the offseason for the Rams (7-9), who have yet to have a true No. 1 pass catcher under Spagnuolo. They could also use an upgrade at guard to fill out an otherwise solid offensive line and a solid backup for Jackson.
On defense, they need a pair of linebackers to surround Laurinaitis, who has led the team in tackling both of his seasons.
With what they had, players were proud that one more win would have put the Rams in the playoffs for the first time since 2004.
"Big picture, we know we're on our way," safety O.J. Atogwe said. "At the beginning of the year, most people wouldn't say we'd even be in that position we were in (Sunday)."
Spagnuolo declined to address his wish list, and also wouldn't say whether any of his assistant coaches would get interviewed for openings elsewhere in the NFL.
Jackson believes the Rams will have a lot easier time attracting free agents this offseason because they'll be perceived as a franchise on the rise. This time last year, St. Louis was not such an attractive destination, particularly for veterans not interested in being part of a rebuilding effort.
Before signing with the Ravens in September, T.J. Houshmandzadeh told Jackson his clock was ticking.
"It's a lot easier to consider coming to a team that finished 7-9 and one game away from the playoffs than 1-15," Jackson said. "He's in the latter part of his career, and guys want to go somewhere that's already established and don't have to do the grunt work that we have to do here."
One of the biggest pluses was the stronger than anticipated debut of Bradford, who set several NFL rookie records and took every snap, proving his surgically repaired right shoulder was not a worry.
"I felt like the coaches trusted me more at the end of the year," Bradford said. "I felt like they put a lot more on my plate, which is something I take a lot of pride in."
Jackson has a game to go, and said the pins holding together his broken right ring finger won't come out until after the Pro Bowl as a precaution.