Happy Returns: Jenkins Provides More Big Plays

Posted Dec 23, 2012

TAMPA, Fla. – The sight of Rams rookie cornerback Janoris Jenkins celebrating in the end zone has become something of a regular occurrence.

So when Jenkins capped off his fourth interception of the season with a return for a touchdown for the third time this season, none of his teammates did so much as bat an eyelash.

“I just kind of block and I don’t even have to look and I turn around and I see him in the end zone,” end Chris Long said. “He’s a special talent and a dangerous player when he’s got the ball in his hands.”

Jenkins’ 41-yard return for a touchdown following his interception of Tampa Bay quarterback Josh Freeman was his third interception return for a touchdown this season, tying him with Ronnie Lott and Lem Barney for the most interceptions returned for a touchdown by a rookie in NFL history. He is just one short of tying the league record for a season.

“That means a lot just to be mentioned with those guys but I have got to keep working because I have got to get better,” Jenkins said.

Including a fumble return for a touchdown against San Francisco, Jenkins has four defensive touchdowns on the season, a total that leads the league.

Jenkins’ latest journey to the end zone bore a striking resemblance to his other pair of touchdown returns from interceptions; even coming on the same sideline of the field as the pair he had in Arizona earlier in the year.

With 12:01 to go in the first quarter, Freeman dropped back and looked to his left for receiver Mike Williams running a deep comeback about 16 yards downfield. Williams slipped and fell coming out of his break but it might not have mattered much because Jenkins had read it and had a step on him anyway.

Jenkins snatched it as he tiptoed along the sideline.

“I just happened to get out of my break pretty good and I looked around and the ball was there,” Jenkins said.

From there, well, the next part is pretty obvious.

“It’s automatic,” defensive tackle Kendall Langford said. “He’s done it over and over with picks and taking them to the house. He’s amazing and he’s only going to get better.”

Like most rookies, Jenkins’ rookie season has had its share of ups and downs. Despite an interception in his first game against Detroit, he had some hiccups including a misread on a play that led to a touchdown for the Dolphins in the game against Miami.

Jenkins also had the one game suspension for violation of team rules in San Francisco.

But, like many of his young teammates, Jenkins seems to be finishing the season strong.

“He has really been playing well as of late,” coach Jeff Fisher said. “It was a great catch, great return.”

Jenkins’ four touchdowns actually leave him in a tie with running back Steven Jackson for second most on the team, trailing only receiver Brandon Gibson’s five.

While it would stand to reason that Jackson and Gibson would finish ahead of Jenkins with one game to play, Jenkins’ knack for finding his way into the end zone would seem to leave an endless supply of possibilities.

“I tell you what, I like to hope that I would but the way this kid has a nose for the end zone is pretty impressive,” Jackson said. “I’m happy for him. He’s doing a great job. He’s making it tough on the old man.”

CLOSING IN ON 1K: While Jackson was able to match Jenkins’ touchdown output Sunday with his 5-yard score near the end of the first half, he wasn’t quite able to meet the next item on the milestone checklist.

Entering Sunday, Jackson needed 91 yards to hit 1,000 yards for the eighth consecutive season against the Bucs’ top-ranked run defense. Despite a late surge, he came up just short of the mark, finishing with 81 yards on 19 carries.

Although Jackson missed by just 10 yards, he was pleased with how the running game operated against Tampa’s vaunted run defense.

“We were hoping that we could knock it out and get it out of the way but it was a very tough defense, No. 1 against the run so I was pretty pleased with how we were able to move the ball on the ground as a running offense but they did their jobs,” Jackson said. “They were very tough, very stout to run against but the offensive line created some lanes for me to run through.”

Jackson did move his name up a few lists Sunday, as his rushing touchdown was the 56th of his career, tying Eric Dickerson for second in franchise history. His one reception gave him 400 for his career, tying him with Tom Fears. He also moved past Ricky Williams for 26th on the NFL’s all time rushing list.

And, of course, Jackson has another game to get those final 10 yards, fittingly against heated rival Seattle next week.

“It would be amazing but we have still got to get it done,” Jackson said. “They are a good team against the run so I don’t go out there just assuming it’s going to happen and I have got to go out there and run tough against their defense and the 12th man.”

LINEUP ADJUSTMENTS: With guard Harvey Dahl on injured reserve because of a torn biceps tendon, the Rams had a couple of options to take his place in Shelley Smith and Chris Williams.

Smith and Williams shared the work in practice during the week and Fisher opted not to tip his hand as to which would start during the week.

In the end, it was Smith making his fifth start of the season and first at right guard. But the game actually took on a similar look to practice as Smith and Williams shared the job.

“We rotated them,” Fisher said. “We felt they would both have an opportunity to play and play well. We lost Harvey and we put both of those guys in there rotating and I thought they did a nice job.”

The line did well enough that the Rams actually snapped a streak of 30 consecutive games allowing a sack on Sunday as quarterback Sam Bradford was not dropped for a loss in the game.

“This is the first time in a long time where our quarterback hasn’t gotten sacked,” Fisher said. “Thirty games so credit Coach (Paul Boudreau).”

The Rams had one more tweak to the starting lineup as cornerback Cortland Finnegan continues to work through a thigh injury. Finnegan didn’t practice all week and was listed as questionable entering Sunday’s game.

Instead of pushing Finnegan into a normal workload, the Rams started Trumaine Johnson on the outside and used Finnegan in the slot in nickel situations. Johnson came up with his second career interception and got his hands on a few more as he finished with three passes defended in unofficial pressbox statistics.

"I thought Tru played well for us in place of Cortland," Fisher said. "Cort just wasn’t technically 100 percent so we let him play nickel and let Tru play outside."

KENDRICKS’ BIG DAY: Tight end Lance Kendricks also made a little history of his own Sunday, catching an 80-yard touchdown pass from Bradford that was the longest touchdown catch by a tight end in franchise history.

That grab and go shattered the previous long of 70 set by Leon Clarke in 1957. Kendricks also had his first career 100-yard receiving day, finishing with four catches for 119 yards.

“Hopefully this is the start of something great,” Kendricks said. “I am excited for the next game and hopefully years to come.”