Wednesday May 25th, 2016 3:18AM

Jackson's hopes dashed in first season with Falcons

By The Associated Press
FLOWERY BRANCH -- Steven Jackson was looking forward to showing what he could do on a winning team, to really making his mark on the national stage.

It hasn't worked out as he hoped.

Not even close.

The 30-year-old Jackson is mired in the worst season on his decade-long career, and any hope he had of carrying the Atlanta Falcons to a Super Bowl title are long gone.

"It has not been the year we all wanted," Jackson said Wednesday. "It's kind of like the reality of life. A lot of times, people go through things that you just don't prepare for. Some things hit you (from the) blind side."

After missing four games and most of a fifth with a hamstring injury, Jackson has been largely invisible since returning to the field. Over the last three weeks, he has carried the ball 33 times for 74 yards and turned in two of the worst performances of his career - an 11-carry, 6-yard effort against Arizona and last Sunday's nine-carry, 11-yard showing against Seattle.

Overall, he has a measly 151 yards rushing and a career-worst 3.2 yards per carry, his struggles mirroring the team's. The Falcons (2-7) are one of the league's most disappointing squads, going into Sunday's game at Tampa Bay (1-8) having lost six of seven to put themselves in the running for the top draft pick in 2014, not a championship.

"You kind of look at yourself in the mirror and ask yourself, `Are you doing all the things you have done in the past? Are you staying motivated? Are there areas you need to improve?'" Jackson said. "You've got to be completely honest with yourself and then kind of go from there."

When Jackson arrived in Atlanta, he was touted as the last piece to the puzzle, a more versatile runner than his predecessor (Michael Turner) and a player who could get the Falcons over the hump after they came oh-so-close to reaching the Super Bowl last season.

If nothing else, it seemed a pretty sure bet what could be expected out of Jackson. After gaining a full-time starting job with the Rams in his second year, he had put together eight straight 1,000-yard rushing seasons - though few people knew about it outside St. Louis because he played on perennially losing teams.

Barring a stunning turnaround, the 1,000-yard streak is surely over.

The Falcons' performance, on the other hand, is right on par with what he endured in St. Louis.

"In these situations, it's easy to start pointing a finger at people," said Jackson, who was limited in practice Wednesday by a sore toe. "But first things first, you take responsibility for the things you can control. That's what I have done over the years, and that's what I will continue to do this season."

Jackson isn't the only one struggling on offense.

The Falcons have scored only three touchdowns - one in each game - the last three weeks. Quarterback Matt Ryan has struggled in the passing game without star receiver Julio Jones, who went out with a season-ending injury. The offensive line was a big question mark even before it lost two starters for the year, and what's left up front has provided hardly any room for Jackson and the other backs to run.

"Everybody's disappointed and frustrated with where we're at," Ryan said. "We understand that. Steven is a great teammate and a good guy to be around. He's got a lot of good insight. He just keeps plugging away. That's part of the deal. That's what you have to do."

Jackson could easily point to the porous line or the lack of carries as reasons for his troubles. The Falcons have been outscored 94-33 during a three-game losing streak, usually getting so far behind they have to quickly abandon the running game.

But he's only concerned with what he can improve.

"Running the ball is group effort," Jackson said. "It's not one individual. It's not one unit. Over the years, I've taken pride in being consistent. But regardless of why things have not worked out, I refuse as a leader to point the finger at someone else before I point it at myself."

NOTES: As expected, LB Sean Weatherspoon rejoined the roster Wednesday after recovering from a foot ailment. He had been on the injured list since Week 2 and watched the Falcons go 1-6 while he was out. "I'm not Superman," he said. "I've got to go out there and play my game." ... The Falcons also signed OT Sean Locklear, who spent much of his career in Seattle and started 10 games for the New York Giants last season. He fills the roster spot left by LT Sam Baker, who is done for the year because of a knee injury. ... TE Tony Gonzalez (toe) and backup running back Jason Snelling (knee) did not practice Wednesday. DT Corey Peters (knee) and DE Malliciah Goodman (calf) also sat out.
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