It’s going from bad to worse for the Arizona Cardinals.
The NFC West cellar-dwelling St. Louis Rams came to University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale and beat the Cardinals and rookie quarterback Ryan Lindley 31-17 in what has to be considered a low point in the Ken Whisenhunt era. It’s was their seventh-straight loss after starting the season 4-0.
“Well obviously, disappointed with the outcome,” a dejected Whisenhunt told the media after the game. “I thought at times we looked like a pretty good football team and at other times obviously we didn’t…we just have to continue to work at it; try to get better as a team.”
Things couldn’t have started better for the Cardinals (4-7) as Lindley marched the offense down the field on his opening drive of his first NFL start. Lindley connected with Larry Fitzgerald three times and hit Andre Roberts for 21 deep in the red zone before Beanie Wells plowed in two plays later to give the Red Birds the early lead. The 15-play, 91-yard drive was aided by a late hit penalty by strong safety Quintin Mickell near midfield after Arizona was stopped on third and long. Lindley started 7-8 for 80 yards. Wells carried six times for 15 yards and the score on his first drive in several weeks.
However, Lindley looked the part of rookie quarterback on the second offensive possession. Following a nifty 26-yard punt return by Patrick Peterson, Rams cornerback Janoris Jenkins jumped a flat route and raced 36 yards untouched down the Cards sideline. The pick-six tied the game at seven and took the life out of University of Phoenix Stadium. It was the Rams (4-6-1) first forced turnover in the last five games, but it wouldn’t be the last.
The Cards regained the lead midway through the second quarter as Wells used two excellent blocks from wide receiver Andre Roberts and scooted in from 12 yards out making it 14-7 after the Jay Feely PAT. Lindley recovered from the interception looking sharp hitting tight end Robert Housler (in for the inactive Todd Heap) down the seam for 28 yards two plays before the score.
Patrick Peterson, who returned a punt for a touchdown to beat the Rams last season, stepped in front of wide receiver Brandon Gibson and picked off Sam Bradford in the end zone to kill a potential touchdown preserving the lead.
St. Louis pulled even on the first play after the two-minute warning when Bradford hit tight end Lance Kendricks down the seam for a 37-yard scoring strike. It came just moments after Bradford left for a play holding his shoulder after getting drilled by outside linebacker Quintin Groves.
Lindley engineered a nice drive before the half spreading the ball around to a number of different receivers including running back William Powell. Arizona nearly ran out of time, but Feely converted a 32-yarder making it 17-14 going to the intermission.
The Rams seesawed back on top early in the third when Bradford (8-17, 205 yards, two touchdowns) hit Chris Givens in stride for a 37-yard touchdown. Givens got behind rookie cornerback Justin Bethel near the St. Louis sideline. The score was setup by a Steven Jackson 46-yard run after Dave Zastudil’s punt pinned the Rams at their own eight. Jackson finished with 139 yards on 24 carries.
Lindley’s second big mistake happened on the next drive when he under threw Fitzgerald down the middle. Safety Craig Dahl stepped in front of the pass and returned it to the Cards 12. A holding penalty nullified a Jackson touchdown and the Red Birds dodged another bullet when rookie kicker Greg Zuerlein shanked a 35-yard field goal keeping Arizona in the game 21-17.
“The two picks were just real mental mistakes,” Lindley said. “It was things that, it’s inexplainable right now, but I made a bad play. I’m just off a little bit on something, rushing something, not trusting what I’m seeing out there.”
Lightning struck twice in Glendale as Jenkins stepped in front of Fitzgerald and returned the badly under thrown pass 39 yards putting the Cards in an even deeper hole late in the third quarter. Lindley’s third interception was the worst as the ball harmlessly floated into Jenkins arms. Fitz didn’t catch a pass after the first quarter (3 catches, 31 yards) but was targeted 12 times. He’s managed only four receptions the past two games.
The Rams offense continued to carve up Ray Horton’s defense in the fourth quarter as Bradford connected with Givens for 22 yards on third and six to set St. Louis up deep in Cardinals territory. A personal foul penalty reserve defensive end Ronald Talley aided the drive. Zuerlein’s 19-yard chip shot pushed the lead to 31-17 as the Bird’s Nest quickly emptied in Glendale.
Lindley’s fourth pick in the closing minutes capped an ugly starting debut as the Rams closed out a relatively easy NFC West win. He finished 31-52 for 312 yards no touchdowns and four interceptions.
The Cards go back on the road next weekend to face the Jets (4-7) in New York.