MINNEAPOLIS (AP) – Steven Jackson and the St. Louis Rams ran like contenders in this meaningless matchup. Minnesota clearly had the look of elimination.

Steven Jackson had a career-high four touchdowns and 166 yards from scrimmage, helping the Rams finish the year with a 41-21 win over the woeful Vikings on Sunday.

With his team leading 34-7 early in the fourth quarter, Jackson raced up the left sideline for a 59-yard score. That prevented Minnesota from establishing a post-merger (since 1970) NFL record for fewest yards rushing allowed in a season, missing by 15 the mark of 970 yards set by the Ravens in 2000.

Minnesota (6-10) and St. Louis (8-8) each qualified for the postseason in 2004 as 8-8 wild-card teams, but their mediocrity was not rewarded this year – even in the diluted NFC.

The Vikings were dumped from the playoff chase last week in a 9-7 loss to the Packers when they managed only three first downs, and the Rams were ousted from contention at their hotel Saturday night when the Giants beat the Redskins.

Any drama remaining vanished, limited to Minnesota’s pursuit of the rushing defense record, rookie quarterback Tarvaris Jackson’s first home start and, well, first-year St. Louis coach Scott Linehan’s return to the Metrodome – where he was the offensive coordinator under Mike Tice from 2002-04.

The Vikings officially extended their sellout streak to 95 games, but there were plenty of people who prepaid for their tickets and didn’t show up on a rainy afternoon. At one point in the first half, the T-shirt gun used by stadium workers to give out souvenirs was louder than the library-like crowd.

Fans came to see Jackson – Tarvaris, that is – give them some hope for next season, and the rookie showed mixed results. He was intercepted on his second pass by Ron Bartell, who returned it 38 yards for a touchdown to open the romp.

Bartell picked Jackson off in the second quarter, too, but the kid from Division I-AA Alabama State put on a decent performance with 213 yards and one touchdown passing and another rushing score. He completed 20 of his 34 throws.

Chester Taylor set a Minnesota record with 304 carries this year and also became only the fourth Vikings back to reach 1,200 yards in a season. Taylor had 29 yards on 13 attempts, with one touchdown.

He was the only offensive bright spot in 2006 for the Vikings, who stumbled under first-year coach Brad Childress. Veteran Brad Johnson, who was replaced by Jackson last week as the starter, completed a third-quarter pass when the rookie was shaken up and left briefly for medical attention. Johnson, ironically, was cheered when he entered the game – just two weeks after fans booed him repeatedly in another rough game.

But Pro Bowl-bound Steven Jackson was the show, finishing his third year in the league with an impressive display of power and speed. He rushed 25 times for 142 yards and finished with 1,528.

AP-ES-12-31-06 1628EST

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