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Falcons RB Steven Jackson faces old team in Week 2

Friday, 13 September 2013 23:29 Published in Sports

ATLANTA (AP) — Steven Jackson always wondered how the other half lived.

Spending his first nine seasons with the St. Louis Rams, he put up some impressive numbers individually but made only one trip to the playoffs — as a rookie. He never played on a winning team, which really started to wear on him in the end.

"When you're not on national television a lot, some of the things you've done over the years can get overlooked easily," said Jackson, a three-time Pro Bowler who has rushed for more than 10,000 yards. "You can only have so much individual success to kind of pacify you through your career."

So, with St. Louis looking to go younger in the backfield, Jackson moved on to the Atlanta Falcons, who came oh-so-close to making the Super Bowl last season.

Well, look who he'll be facing in Week 2 with his new team.

Yep, the Rams (1-0), who are trying to build on their first season-opening victory since 2006.

"I was on the outside,' Jackson said. "Now, being on the inside and seeing what a good team looks like, I saw what I was missing. I'm happy to be given this opportunity."

Atlanta (0-1) dropped its opener at New Orleans, the bid for a game-winning touchdown stopped on fourth down at the Saints 3 with less than a minute remaining.

But Jackson turned in the sort of all-around performance the Falcons were looking for when they signed him to replace Michael Turner, rushing 11 times for 77 yards and catching five passes for 45 yards.

At age 30, he's still got game — and the respect of his former team.

"Obviously, Jack was a huge part of me growing up," Rams quarterback Sam Bradford said. "I learned most how to be a leader. I watched the way he handled himself in different situations in the locker room, on the field, in practice, during games. I learned a ton from Jack. I really couldn't imagine having to start my career here without him."

So, with much of the attention on Jackson facing his former team, here are five other things to look for when the Falcons host the Rams on Sunday:

___

PROTECTING THE QB: Bradford hasn't been sacked in three straight games going back to last season, the first time the Rams have done that since 1973. Contrast that with the Falcons, who have only two offensive line starters at the same positions as last season. That lack of continuity showed throughout the preseason and in Week 1, when Matt Ryan was sacked three times and hurried on many more throws. The Rams will be looking to tee off on Ryan after getting four sacks in their opener.

RODDY'S ANKLE: Falcons WR Roddy White has played in 129 consecutive games, tied for the fourth-longest streak in franchise history, but he's been bothered by a high ankle sprain since the preseason. White was clearly not at full strength in the opener, catching only two passes for 19 yards. If he's still hobbled, the Rams can slide their coverages toward WR Julio Jones and TE Tony Gonzalez.

COOKING UP A RECORD: Jared Cook had quite a debut with the Rams, setting a franchise record for receiving yards by a tight end with 141 on seven catches. He also had a pair of touchdowns, giving the Falcons defense another dynamic tight end to account for after facing Jimmy Graham of the Saints.

ROOKIE CORNERS: Desmond Trufant and Robert Alford had to play key roles in the Atlanta secondary with Asante Samuel sidelined by an injury in Week 1. They both held up well against Drew Brees and the high-powered Saints. Alford had an interception and broke up two passes, while Trufant also knocked away a throw. The Falcons are hoping to get Samuel back, but Trufant remains a starter and Alford should continue getting extensive playing time.

BOUNCING BACK: The Falcons haven't had a losing streak since 2009. They are 20-3 after losses under coach Mike Smith and riding a 12-game winning streak in those situations. The Rams have their work cut out for them — especially playing at the Georgia Dome, where the Falcons are 33-7 in the regular season over the last five years.

Rams DE Long questionable for game against Falcons

Friday, 13 September 2013 23:27 Published in Sports

ST. LOUIS (AP) — St. Louis Rams defensive end Chris Long did not practice and coach Jeff Fisher says he's questionable for Sunday's game at Atlanta with hip soreness.

Long, the second overall pick in 2008, has posted double-digit sack totals the last two seasons and has played in 81 consecutive games, the third-longest streak among defensive ends. He was limited on Thursday.

Also on the injury report Friday were cornerback Quinton Porter, ruled out with a thigh injury, and safety Darian Stewart was doubtful.

Alex Pietrangelo Signs 7 Year Deal

Friday, 13 September 2013 23:23 Published in Sports

ST. LOUIS (AP) — The St. Louis Blues and defenseman Alex Pietrangelo agreed on a seven-year, $45.5 million contract with a no-trade clause over the final three years, ending a brief holdout.

The deal was announced Friday, one day after the first practice of training camp. General manager Doug Armstrong said it was a strong signal that the Blues intend for the 23-year-old Pietrangelo, the fourth overall pick of the 2008 draft and one of the top offensive defensemen in the NHL, to spend his career in St. Louis.

A news conference for Armstrong and Pietrangelo (Pet-TRANJ'-el-oh) was set for Saturday.

"What I said to him, 'This isn't a seven-year deal, this is just another steppingstone," Armstrong said. "I think he's excited to be here, I know we're excited to have him, get him in here and turn him over to the coach."

The Blues had hoped to get a deal before training camp but talks briefly broke down. Armstrong said negotiations resumed Thursday and "we were able to wrap up all the loose ends that were there."

Pietrangelo tweeted, "Really excited to be a part of Blues organization for the next 7 years."

He will average $6.5 million on a deal that will gradually escalate, making $5 million this season and peaking at $7.5 million in the final season.

"It's something that's ongoing because both sides wanted to get it done, and a lot of credit goes to ultimately Alex," Armstrong said. "As we said a couple days ago, Alex makes these decisions. Not his agent, not anyone else. Today, when I talked to him he was satisfied."

Players got the news coming off the ice.

Forward David Backes, the team captain, called Pietrangelo a "supreme talent" who is able to shut down the opposition's top forward without sacrificing offense.

"He's a top defenseman in this league, no question," Backes said. "To know that he's with us, we can knock that distraction off the list, kind of that peripheral noise. We know that we've got our guys together."

Pietrangelo led the team's defensemen with 24 points — five goals and 19 assists — and was among the league leaders with an average of 25 minutes per game. He's been a regular the past three seasons.

Armstrong said it had been a matter of when — not if — the parties agreed on a deal. Backes pointed out that Pietrangelo has "set some roots."

"You knew that he was going to be here long term, you just didn't know how much the business side was going to get in the way," Backes said. "In the end, there's a lot of happy people on both sides.

"After he takes a little bit of razzing from the guys for not being here, he'll be right back in the group and together with us like he should be."

Coach Ken Hitchcock didn't think it would take Pietrangelo long to catch up with the rest of the team. The Blues open the preseason Sunday at Dallas.

"We kept him up to date until we couldn't speak to him anymore," Hitchcock said. "He knows the last couple weeks what's going on ... players have kept him up to date."

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