FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. – Steven Jackson said Wednesday running the ball in the NFL requires patience and commitment.
Patience can be a difficult trait for a team like the Atlanta Falcons (3-9), who are tied for the NFC's worst record as they prepare for Sunday's game at Green Bay. That's why Jackson applauded the team's commitment to the run in last weeks' 34-31 overtime win over the Bills.
Jackson ran for two touchdowns and set seasons highs with 23 carries for 84 yards rushing against Buffalo as Atlanta snapped a five-game losing streak. Receiver Roddy White also had his best game of the season with 10 catches for 143 yards, giving the Falcons the balanced offense that has been missing.
Jackson's production has been on a steady upward trend after he missed four games and most of a fifth with a hamstring injury. His rushing total has increased in three straight weeks.
Even if it's too late to salvage his season, Jackson is starting to show why he earned a three-year, $12 million contract from the Falcons.
"Steven is a beast, he really is," quarterback Matt Ryan said Wednesday. "He's a consummate professional. The ups and downs of his season, being hurt at different points too, he's continued to come in and work day in and day out. He's relentless when it comes to that.
"The way that he trains, the way that he eats, the way that he prepares on the field, it's no surprise that late in the year he's still out there and ready to roll. I think he played one of his best games of this year this past weekend."
Jackson said the team's commitment to the run was the key.
"The running game is a patient man's game," Jackson said. "That's the first thing. I think a lot of times human nature is if something is not working or you're not getting something out of it that you want, you tend to try to find it in other areas. We were very patient."
Antone Smith added a 38-yard touchdown run as the Falcons had 30 carries for 151 yards and three touchdowns.
Coach Mike Smith said the flow of the game made it easier to keep faith in Jackson and the running game. He said the Falcons couldn't stick with the run in recent lopsided losses to Carolina, Seattle and Tampa Bay.
"I think you've got to continue to run the football when you can," Mike Smith said. "Unfortunately we got into three games we weren't able to do it because of the score. We only had really half a game to really stay with the run game. When you get 14 points down, it's hard to run the football. You've got to try to score quickly."
Ryan overcame six sacks to pass for 311 yards with a touchdown against the Bills. Smith gave partial credit to the productive running game.
"When you run it, you open up all kinds of things in the passing game," he said. "I think that was what happened in the game this week. We were able to run it efficiently, get to the second level. That's going to slow them down, loosen them up, and then you're going to have an opportunity to throw the football and be efficient on third down."
It is too late to salvage the Falcons' season, but for at least one week it was a glimpse of what was expected from the offense.
"I think we can always be better," Jackson said. "I think we can always hope for things to be better as well. We just have to be consistent in our work and continue to show up day to day, week to week, with the same expectations."
NOTES: Tight end Tony Gonzalez (toe), offensive guard Peter Konz (ankle), linebacker Sean Weatherspoon (knee) and safety Zeke Motta (hand) had limited participation in Wednesday's practice. ... A heavy fog covered the practice fields but temperatures were in the mid-60s. "Our elements are a little warmer than what we'll have on game day," Smith said. Temperatures are expected to be in the 20s on Sunday at Green Bay.
AP NFL website: www.pro32.ap.org