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No Joy For Cardinals In Loss To Rams

Posted Dec 3, 2017

Early rally undercut by missed plays, special teams breakdowns in 32-16 defeat

Cardinals quarterback Blaine Gabbert walks off the field after throwing an interception for a touchdown during Sunday's loss to the Rams.

The milestones were falling for Larry Fitzgerald Sunday, as they tend to do these days, surpassing Jerry Rice as the fastest player ever to 1,200 NFL receptions and passing up Isaac Bruce for fourth in all-time receiving yards.

It didn’t matter all that much to the wide receiver. Not Sunday.

“Not when you lose to the Rams, a division opponent,” Fitzgerald said after the Cardinals fell to Los Angeles, 32-16, at University of Phoenix Stadium. “The season hasn’t gone the way we wanted it. It’s hard to take any joy in losing.

“When I’m done and retired and I see you over at Starbucks one day we can reminisce about it. But I don’t feel good right now.”

None of the Cardinals did. The game wasn’t a replay of London’s harsh loss to the Rams (9-3), although it started that way. A rally made it interesting, until the Rams’ Michael Brockers went right up the middle to block a 45-yard field goal try by Phil Dawson with 11 minutes left, a kick that would’ve have shaved the Los Angeles lead to seven points.

It was the cap on another rough special teams day for the Cardinals (5-7) and likely was the cap on any postseason dreams. A win against the Rams, and there was a path with the remaining schedule to create a potential fairy tale push.

Fitzgerald noted that the Cardinals are mathematically still fighting, although math being involved is usually a bad sign when it comes to playoff possibilities.

“We really needed that one,” linebacker Karlos Dansby said. “We just have to keep chugging. You never know what might happen. This might be the setup. You’ve got to have faith.”

The Cardinals believed early, even down 16-0 at the end of the first quarter. Quarterback Blaine Gabbert had an awful start, underthrowing a bomb to J.J. Nelson on his first play that was intercepted – setting up a Rams touchdown – and then throwing another interception that Rams linebacker Alec Ogletree returned 41 yards for another score.

“Definitely not the start any of us wanted,” said Gabbert, who eventually settled down to complete 18-of-32 passes for 221 yards and a touchdown to Fitzgerald. “You’ve got to have a short-term memory, playing the quarterback position.”

Indeed, the Cards found a way back in the game.

Adrian Peterson didn’t play because of a neck injury, but Kerwynn Williams, cracked ribs and all, was the catalyst. He ran for 86 yards in the first half, often through gaping holes created by the Cardinals up front. Williams’ efforts set up Elijhaa Penny for a one-yard touchdown run and then later, Fitzgerald – who had 10 catches for 98 yards – grabbed a 15-yard pass for a score.

The Cardinals were within 16-13 at that point. It was a game.

One thing I never question is the effort our guys give,” coach Bruce Arians said. “These guys played their tails off. We just didn’t execute well enough to beat that team today.”

There were missed chances, like the dropped interception early that Dansby lamented afterward, or the missed touchdown throw from Gabbert to an open Ricky Seals-Jones. Special teams, however, took center stage in crucial moments.

The first was a trade of punts in the third quarter. The Cardinals, down 19-13, forced a Rams punt from the L.A. 9. Johnny Hekker blasted a 70-yarder, with no return. After a three-and-out, Andy Lee’s punt went only 40 yards, and Pharoh Cooper returned it 30 – setting up a 30-yard touchdown drive.

In the fourth quarter, down 10, the Cards stalled at the Rams 27. Brockers knocked down long snapper Justin Drescher up the middle and blocked the field goal. The Rams took the ball and went on their own field-goal drive.

The Cards never really challenged after that. A touchdown could’ve changed things, but the Cards only went three-and-out and had to punt.

“I would’ve liked to see a little more composure right there at the end,” Arians said. “We needed to get two scores. As a whole unit, we crumbled right there.”

After a fantastic first half, Williams couldn’t even reach 100 yards, finishing with 97 when he had only 11 yards on four carries in the second half. Some of that was game situation, some of that was the Rams adjusting their defense to close the big holes from the first two quarters.

Gabbert will remain the starting quarterback, Arians said. The Tennessee Titans (8-4) visit next week, needing a win to stay tied for first place in the AFC South. The Cardinals have all but moved into the spoiler role. For more than that, they must believe – and Dansby said the players still will.

“It isn’t tough at all,” Dansby said. “It’s just about character. That’s all that is. It’s not tough at all.”

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