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Rams were 5 & 7 coming off a loss to the Niners. Cards were 7 & 5 coming off a 3 point loss to the Eagles. Cards remained one game behind the Niners in the race for a possible wildcard spot behind the Seahawks. Rams were hanging onto playoff hopes by a thread. At face value, they appear to be a solidly put-together team operating behind their #2 QB (Clemens in place of Bradford) and banged up in the secondary (without Finnegan and Mikell). If last week was any indicator, they're penalty-prone. The previous week (vs. Philly) the Cardinals regressed to their bad old days of OL weaknesses, Palmer's tendency to commit early turnovers and difficulty covering opposing TE's.
Cards thumped the Rams 30 - 10, but in doing so, failed to gain any ground on the Niners and probably lost Tyrann Mathieu (ACL) for the season.
The Bottom Line:
The Cards won a convincing victory over the Rams only to watch Frank Gore break loose with an eleventh-hour run up the middle from scrimmage to set up the winning field goal in the game against the Seahawks. Late in the game fielding a free-kick after a safety, Tyrann Mathieu's knee was rolled up on. After a scary-long period on the ground, he got up and tried to jog off the field, but his knee buckled and he was carted off the playing field. (It doesn't look good).
The win was huge, but ironically, maybe not quite huge enough. It was a "statement game", a "definition game" and a "survival game" - The team demonstrated that it could win a game when it had to. It also demonstrated that it could convincingly beat a very good division rival. And, as our 8th win of the seasonm it guaranteed at least a .500 record with three games left to play. Ironically, we could win 2 of our last 3 games this year and, despite going 10 & 6, could still miss the playoffs. Coach Arians has it right - if we don't win our next game (vs. the Titans) the other two games won't mean much anyway. The St Louis win was "our next game"/Tennessee is next.
Cards received. TB on the KO. Palmer led his team on an 8-play, penalty-filled drive culminating in a 3-yard TD run by Mendenhall. Drive featured several medium (10 - 15 yd) chunks of yardage. Cards 7 - Rams 0.
Austin returned the KO to the Ram 25.lquarter. Clemens led the Rams on a similar type of 8-play drive, but stalled out at the Cardinal 26, where Zuerlein kicked a 44-yard FG. Cards 7 - Rams 3.
TB on the KO/ Both teams exchanged 6 - 7 play possessions without scoring as the quarter ended. First Quarter Score: Cardinals 7. - Rams 3.
Touchback on the Ram punt. Palmer hit Housler for 31-yards and later on Fitz for +15. An apparent 17-yard TD pass catch and run by Dray (who reached out in an effort to cross the plane of the goal line) was overturned and declared a fumble that was recovered by the Rams for a touchback, with a roughing penalty moving the Rams back to their own 10. (Confused?)
Rams moved to their own 48-yard line in 8 plays and punted on the 9th. Touchback on the punt. Cards marched to the Ram 7-yard line in 9 (penalty-marred) plays. On the 10th play of the drive, Palmer hit Fitz for a 7-yard score. Cards 14 - Rams 3.
0.43 left. Clemens managed to move his team to the Card 44 in 6 plays before time ran out. Halftime Score:
Cardinals 14. - Rams 3.
Austin returned the KO to the Ram 21. On the second play from scrimmage, Clemens' pass in the flat for Cook was picked off by Karlos Dansby who returned it for a 23-yard touchdown.Cardinals 21 - Rams 3..
The two teams exchanged 3 & outs. Zastudill's punt was downed at the Ram one. Two plays later, Abraham nailed Clemens in the end zone for a safety. Cardinals 23 Rams 3.
(It was right about now, I reminded myself that this point in any football game - with half of the 3Q and all of the 4Q left to play - what happened in the next 7 - 10 minutes usually determined whether or not the leading team would convincingly lock up the game or whether they'd allow their opponent to get right back into the battle). The free kick was returned by Mathieu, who was injured (ACL) on the play. (Uh Oh!).
Cards took over on their own 22. A 10-yard sack of Palmer cut short their drive. But Zastudil's punt was downed at the Ram 5 yd. line. Rams went 3 & out. Cards got ball back at theRam 47. Six plays later, Feely was wide with a 50-yard FG attempt.
Rams took over at the Ram 40. On the first play of the possession, Austin scooted 56 yards to the Cardinal 2-yd line to end the quarter. Third Quarter Score: Cardinals 23 - Rams 3.
- On the second play of the quarter, Stacy ran it in from the one. (It's a 13-point game). Cardinals 23 - Rams 10,
Arenas returned the KO to the Card 30, but the Cards could only hang onto the ball for 6 plays before punting. Punt was downed at the one-yard line but call was (surprise! surprise!) reversed (because the Cardinal player was in the end zone when he downed the punt). Play was ruled a touchback.
10:44 still left on the clock. We held them to 3 & out. Peterson returned the punt minus-6 yards to the Cardinal 40. Palmer moved the Cards to the Ram 6- yd line in 8 plays, where Feely shanked his second attempt (this one from just 25-yards).
Ram ball at their own 20 with just 4:27 on the clock. On the first play from scrimmage, Clemens was picked off by Rashaad Johnson. Cards ball at the Ram 27. This time, they moved smartly to the Ram 6 (using up all the remaining Ram time outs) where Ellington ran it in for the TD that iced it. Cards 30 - Rams 10.
1:49 left. No more scoring. Final Score: Cards 30 - Rams 10.
Palmer completed 27 or 32 throws (84.3%) for 269 yards a TD and no interceptions..
Ellington and Mendenhall once again split the carries and the yardage. Ellington carried 11 times for 46 yards. Mendy ran 17 times for 41 yards. Each was credited with a TD.
Fitz caught 12 passes for 96 yards and a TD.
Setting aside Austin's 56-yard scamper, we held StL to 44 yards on 18 carries.
Our Run/Pass Ratio was 32/32 or 50-50.
We sacked Clemens 4 times - Abraham had 3 sacks; Dansby had one.
Dansby (who, with Powers led the team in tackles with 8) also had a pick-six.
We were +1 in turnovers with two picks (by Dansby and R Johnson) and no fumbles- recovered (vs. no picks and one fumble-recovered for StL).
The Rams (true to past form) were penalized 11 times (vs. our 6)
Cards won the Time of Possession battle:
35:07 to 24:53)
All three units - offense, defense and special teams played to their potential.
Most important, the defense played the way they were expected to play: The Cardinals beat a team they were expected to beat.
Fitz's 12 catches didn't just reflect his own ridiculous receiving skills, but also reflects the team's growing balance offensively (i.e. you can focus on stopping Fitz and let the Cards beat you in the run game or spreading the ball around to Floyd, the other WR's or Housler - or you can try to stop all these other guys and let Fitz pick your pocket).
47 yards is no big deal for a running back, but 87 yards by the 2-headed monster of Mendenhall and Ellington is at least minimally OK.
Talk about "clean pockets" - where were Quinn and Long? - We only heard Quinn's name mentioned once all day. (Palmer was only sacked once - by Ogletree).
Forget about the stats - the defense was flat-out dominating; consistently, play after play.
The Dark Side
Feely missed a do-able 50-yarder and a gimme.
The Honey Badger is likely out for the year.
We'd like to see Roberts make a higher percentage of makeable plays.
We're 8 & 5 with three games left to play. Tennessee is definitely winnable; SF (in Arizona) less-so; Seattle (in Seattle) even less-so. Quite possibly, we could go 10 & 6 and still not make the playoffs, but you know what? It doesn't matter as much as the entire franchise gaining respect as a 10 & 6 (or even 9 & 7). football team. (This might be considered heresy, but playing at a high-level is nearly as good as reaching the playoffs). Our only goal should be to just win next Sunday's game and go from there. Then win the Seattle game and go from there. And then - at 10 & 5 (or at worst 10 & 6) - take on the Niners at home. whatever happens, we'll be once again respected in football circles as legendary football team with its share of legendary players - from Fitz, Floyd and Ellington to Calais, Dock, Abe, Dansby, DWash, Pete, Bethel, and Zast to the Badger). Remember, we only have one game to worry about - Tennessee.