GLENDALE, Ariz. — Through the season’s first three games, the Arizona Cardinals had made it look easy.
But in the NFL, it’s never easy and as the saying goes, any given Sunday. And on this Sunday the St. Louis Rams were the better team.
They forced three turnovers, sacked Carson Palmer four times, stood tall defending the red zone and watched rookie Todd Gurley run for 146 yards — his 30-yard rush on 3rd-and-12 with just over a minute remaining sealed the victory, 24-22, in front of a sold out University of Phoenix Stadium.
Gurley led a ground attack that totaled 164 yards on 26 carries.
The Rams improved to 2-2 and snapped a three-game losing streak to the Cardinals.
Nick Foles passed for 171 yards and three touchdowns, two to Tavon Austin, who totaled six catches for 96 yards.
Palmer, meanwhile, was 29-of-46 for 352 yards and a touchdown. He was also intercepted, one of three giveaways contributing to the Cardinals (3-1) first loss of the season.
St. Louis scored 17 points off turnovers.
At times, the Cardinals were their own worst enemy.
In addition to turning the football over, the Cardinals failed to capitalize on five red zone trips, scoring just one touchdown with four Chandler Catanzaro field goals.
– After the Rams scored on their first possession, the Cardinals defense held, forcing back-to-back-to-back three-and-outs. On the three drives, St. Louis gained a combined 11 yards on nine plays. Markus Golden and Calais Campbell combined on a sack of Bradford to halt the first possession. Campbell also recorded two tackles on the second possession, while two straight Foles incompletions ended the third possession.
– The defense stepped up its game following a Palmer second-quarter interception. None more so than Tyrann Mathieu, the reigning NFC Defensive Player of the Week. On 3rd-and-4 at the Arizona 12, Mathieu broke up a likely touchdown pass intended for Jared Cook, forcing the Rams to settle for a 30-yard field goal and 10-6 lead at 3:16 of the first half. Mathieu had three first-half tackles, trailing only Campbell’s five for team-high honors.
– With his 13-yard second-quarter catch, Larry Fitzgerald extended his team record of at least one catch to 167 straight games, which also happens to be the longest active streak in the NFL. Fitzgerald began the day with more catches (23), receiving yards (333) and touchdowns (5) through three games than in any season in his NFL career.
– If at first you don’t succeed, try, try, try again; or in the case of the Cardinals, how about a fifth try. On their fifth trip inside the red zone, they scored on a David Johnson 23-yard catch and run to make the score 24-22 Rams at 4:38 of the fourth quarter. Two plays earlier, the Cardinals converted a 4th-and-4 at the St. Louis 33 with Palmer finding a wide open Fitzgerald for a 14-yard gain.
– Through the first three weeks of the season, the Cardinals were the only team that had not trailed at any point of any game. That changed just 90 seconds into Week 4 when Foles found Austin for a 12-yard touchdown, capitalizing on David Johnson’s fumble on the opening kickoff. Austin beat Jerraud Powers on the play.
– Entering the game, Palmer had been sacked just once, but on the Cardinals first possession, No. 3 was dropped twice in six plays; first by Lamarcus Joyner and then Chris Long, the later coming on 3rd-and-16. Those were the 14th and 15th sacks of the season for the Rams, who began the day tied with the Patriots for the most in the NFL.
– No team had been better at scoring touchdowns inside the red zone than the Cardinals, but on their first opportunity against the Rams, they settled for a Catanzaro 21-yard field goal. After Michael Floyd drew a pass interference call on Janoris Jenkins to make it 1st-and-goal at the 1-yard line, Chris Johnson rushed twice for minus three yards and then David Johnson dropped a sure touchdown pass on third down.
– A second red-zone trip stalled on the Cardinals very next possession. Despite a pair of Floyd first-down catches, David Johnson was tackled for a two-yard loss on 3rd-and-3 at the St. Louis 7. Catanzaro kicked a 27-yard field goal, capping a 13-play, 51-yard drive and making the score 7-6 Rams with 10:45 to play in the second quarter.
– Fitzgerald struggled, first with a drop and then a fumble, the latter coming in the third quarter. The Cards’ third turnover proved costly as Foles hit Stedman Bailey for an 18-yard touchdown and 17-9 lead at 5:44 of the third quarter. This marked the first time Fitzgerald dropped a ball and fumbled a ball in the same game since Week 3 against Baltimore in 2007, per ESPN Stats & Info.
– Once again, a Cardinals red-zone trip resulted in a Catanzaro field goal, this one from 38 yards to make it 17-12 Rams with 1:13 to play in the third quarter. Facing a 3rd-and-2 at the St. Louis 14, Palmer was sacked by T.J. McDonald, losing six yards. Earlier on the drive, Chris Johnson had runs of 19 and 14 yards, giving him 83 yards on 16 carries.
– Red zone trouble continued for the Cardinals in the fourth quarter with a fourth trip inside the 15-yard line; they settled for a Catanzaro field goal. He connected from 29 yards out to make it 17-15 Rams with 11:52 to play in the game. Prior to the kick, Jermaine Gresham dropped a sure first down on 3rd-and-2 at the St. Louis 11.
STAT OF THE GAME
17: The number of Rams points scored off of three Cardinals turnovers.
HE SAID IT
“It sucks when you have a guy run like he did today,” Cory Redding said, referring to Gurley. “He’s in the NFL for a reason. We’ll be ready the next time. He had a good day.”
– The Cardinals dropped to 5-5 when wearing their alternate black uniform tops.
– Arizona’s defense held the Rams to nine rushing yards on nine attempts in the first half.
– Rashad Johnson exited the game due to a back issue only to return early in the fourth quarter.
– Among the Cardinals’ inactives were running back Andre Ellington and offensive lineman Ted Larsen.
After two straight home games, the Cardinals hit the road in Week 5 — and they’ll be on the road for consecutive games.
Up first, a trip to Detroit to tackle the Lions on Sunday, Oct. 11. Kickoff is scheduled for 1:05 with pregame coverage beginning four hours earlier on Arizona Sports 98.7 FM.
The Cardinals have won six straight over the Lions, including their most recent visit to Ford Field in 2009, 31-24, a game in which Anquan Boldin’s fourth-quarter, five-yard touchdown run proved to be the difference.
Overall, the Lions hold a 31-27-5 advantage in a series that dates back to 1930.
Following the game, the Cardinals will stay out east to practice and prepare for their matchup at Pittsburgh on Oct. 18.