The Cardinals came into Sunday’s game undefeated and feeling pretty ‘in the black’ about themselves and their chances to make the Super Bowl this year…but the St. Louis Rams didn’t get the memo.
In short, the idiom, ‘in the black’ means to be financially above ground or generally successful in whatever it is you’re trying to accomplish. In the NFL, one could consider it being in the top tier category, the best of the best, the cream of the crop, the high rent district…you get the point. With that being said, the Arizona Cardinals were in the black in just about every sense of the phrase through the first three weeks with their 3-0 beginning, and had suddenly captured the attention and respect of nearly everyone with a major media platform. The highest-scoring offense (42.0 ppg), a top 5 defense that leads the league with INTs, and a two-game lead in their division after only three weeks. They were the unanimous pick to dismantle the back-sliding, one-dimensional Rams in week 4 coming off running back Chris Johnson’s best game so far against the 49ers.
Then came the jewel that may have made the pre-crowning too heavy on the brain; midway through the week, it was being reported that according to numbersFire(dot).com, a group [of nerds]that uses the powers of quantitative analysis and claim to be the world’s most accurate predictor of sports performance, announced that the Arizona Cardinals have the best chance to win the Super Bowl at 24%, with the Green Bay Packers—who have some guy named Aaron Rodgers—trailing in second almost 10 percentage points behind…I won’t even go into how that alone sounds, and I’ve been tooting a red horn since preseason.
Not only did the Rams not drink that Kool-Aid, but they packed their own lunch with their latest 1-2 punch and grounded the red birds for the majority of four quarters.
FIRST QUARTER: RB/KR David Johnson, who started the season so impressively, fumbled the opening kickoff. Three plays later, the Rams scored on a 12-yard dart to receiver Tavon Austin. It would be the first time this season the Cardinals have trailed at any point. After being sacked twice on the first series, Carson Palmer drives his team up the field on the second and highlighted by a 20-yard run by David Johnson, the Cardinals settle for a 21-yard field goal by kicker Chandler Catanzaro. Score: Cardinals 3, Rams 7
SECOND QUARTER: With the field position turning in Arizona’s favor, Palmer took advantage and continued methodical drives up the field, but led by passes of only 10 and 12 yards to Michael Floyd, the field goal team came on again and kicked a successful 27-yarder. The Rams did nothing on their next series and punted, but Janoris Jenkins intercepted a Palmer pass shortly after. Rams QB Nick Foles completed a long pass (47 yards) to Tavon Austin that led to a Greg Zuerlein 30-yard field goal. Sparked by a 21-yard Chris Johnson run, the Cards’ Catanzaro answered back with another field goal of 42 yards, to come back within a point of the Rams’ halftime lead. Halftime Score: Cardinals 9, Rams 10
THIRD QUARTER: Both defenses played really well for most of the quarter and neither team could get anything going until Larry Fitzgerald fumbled a 20-yard completion. The Rams’ top draft pick Todd Gurley began exploding for chunks of yards and led by his performance, the Rams scored on a 18-yard pass play to receiver Stedman Bailey from Nick Foles’ sensational placement. The Cardinals started to move the ball again (after an ankle injury to Alec Ogletree, the games leading tackler at the time) on runs of 14 and 19 yards by Chris Johnson, and a 16-yard pass to Fitzgerald but another sack by the Rams stalled the drive and the Cardinals settling once again on the leg of Catanzaro kicking his fourth field goal of the game. Score: Cardinals 12, Rams 17
FOURTH QUARTER: The fourth quarter started with the Rams’ punter Johnny Hekker backed up behind the Rams 10-yard line and giving the Cardinals great field position once again. It didn’t take them long to score, but only on another field goal, this time of 29 yards. The Rams uncharacteristically took only six plays to score. This time the highlight was an impressive 52-yard dash by Todd Gurley, the longest play of the game. Tavon scored his second touchdown shortly after on a 12-yard pass play at the near-halfway point of the quarter. Rams appeared to let slightly on defense and the Cardinals exploded offensively with plays 22, 19 and 14 yards to Michael Floyd, David Johnson and Larry Fitzgerald respectively before a 23-yard toss to David Johnson gave Arizona and Palmer their first touchdown of the game with under 5 minutes to play. The Cardinals would get the ball back after the Rams did nothing but were held on a 4th-and-2 with 1:17 left to play. Rams RB Todd Gurley would add another burst (30 yards) in the final series of the game but chose to slow and fall to keep the clock running rather than score. Final Score: Cardinals 22, Rams 24
This Arizona home crowd game had playoff atmosphere and was a great game to watch, start to finish. The Cardinals, in their alternative black jerseys, have no reason to be embarrassed because the Rams’ defense is one of the best in the league. In fact, despite the final score saying they gave up twenty-two points, they quite possibly played the best game of their season so far, including the Seattle upset. The shock really wasn’t the final score, but the way it came to be. Imagine the money won if someone had said they’d be willing to bet any and everyone that the St. Louis Rams would hold Ben Roethlisberger and Carson Palmer to a touchdown apiece in consecutive games.
Imagine something else. Imagine Nick Foles and the Rams, now with two major weapons in Tavon Austin and Todd Gurley, remaining consistent for the balance of the season in the NFC West.