Steven Jackson playing one-handed

ST. LOUIS -- Steven Jackson figures he might have to play one-handed a few more weeks because of a broken finger -- even after the St. Louis Rams' bye.

Whatever it takes to keep the offense moving.

Jackson grew up idolizing tough-minded running backs like Emmitt Smith, who he remembered playing despite a separated shoulder, and likes to consider himself an old-school type who can set an example for younger players.

This season, he has persevered through a groin strain for two weeks, and he made it through the final half-dozen games last year despite a back injury that kept him off the practice field and required offseason surgery.

His unselfish production has been one of the factors in the Rams' surprising 4-4 start coming off a 1-15 season.

"Those kinds of stories that I heard growing up kind of fueled me to want to be a tough, old-school type of player," Jackson said Wednesday. "Not just a running back, but someone who's gritty and willing to put it on the line week in and week out."

Last week, six days after surgery to insert two pins into a broken left index finger, he made the Carolina Panthers' defense respect the run, giving rookie Sam Bradford time to throw.

"You can't slow that guy down," Bradford said. "I don't think anything with his hand changed anything in the run game today or really anything with our game plan."

After making a few more one-handed grabs in practice Wednesday before players scattered for four days off, Jackson said the original timetable for removing the pins was six to eight weeks, but he's hoping he might have to play only two more games before he can use both hands again.

Carrying the ball exclusively in his right hand, Jackson had 59 yards on 23 carries against Carolina and made a one-handed grab for 4 yards. The rushing total was 1 yard above his season worst, although the 58-yard game came on only 10 carries before he hurt his groin in Week 3.

Statistics drove Jackson earlier in his career.

A few games before eclipsing Eric Dickerson for the franchise career rushing record last month, Jackson knew exactly how many yards he needed. During pre-game warmups before the Panthers game, he donned goggles to pay tribute to Dickerson.

Jackson is fourth in the NFC with 676 yards, with a 3.9-yard average and two touchdowns, and had three straight 100-yard games before last week. But he knows now that numbers often don't tell the whole story.

"It's funny for me to say that, but I'm actually learning that it's not always about that," Jackson said. "It's about giving your team an advantage.

"In my case, keeping the defense honest."

And keeping the Rams rolling. They're a half-game out of first place in the NFC West and only two wins shy of their total from the previous three seasons.

"It's very exciting," Jackson said. "We're always setting goals for ourselves, so this next month is going to be very important to get ourselves in a great position to be able to play in the postseason.

"It's very, very exciting for me. It's been a long time."