Rams cornerback Janoris Jenkins (21) makes a circus interception to stop a Cardinals wide receiver John Brown (12) during the Rams' 24-22 win Sunday.
The analysis didn't have to go very deep.
A minus-three in the turnover category plus 1-for-5 in the red zone equaled a very painful 24-22 loss to the St. Louis Rams Sunday at University of Phoenix Stadium, the first setback of the season for the Cardinals.
"You're not going to win many games kicking field goals in the red zone and losing the turnover battle," coach Bruce Arians said, in an opening statement that pretty much summed up the afternoon.
The Cardinals (3-1) gained 447 yards on the Rams' stellar defense and piled up 26 first downs. But they never could overcome David Johnson's fumbled kickoff return to open the game – leading to the Rams' first touchdown – or the fact they stalled the first four times they were inside the St. Louis 20-yard line.
The defense also got leaky late. After allowing just five rushing yards through the first play of the third quarter, the Cardinals ended up allowing a whopping 164, including 146 to rookie Todd Gurley on just 19 carries.
"It hurts to lose a game at home and in the division," defensive end Calais Campbell said. "It's tough,
but in the end it is how you respond. You lose a game and it sucks and it happens. It's the NFL. But we are still 3-1 and we are still sitting in a great situation."
As frustrating -- and there was no better word to describe the locker room after – as it was, the Cardinals still had a chance to win. Taking over on their own 37 with 2:51 left, a 12-yard Carson Palmer-to-John Brown pass got one first down, and then Johnson ran for eight more yards. Going into the two-minute warning, the Cards were second-and-2 on the St. Louis 43, needing only 13 or so yards for kicker Chandler Catanzaro – who was already 5-for-5 on field goals – to try for the winner.
"We just couldn't execute getting in from the red zone like we wanted to," John Brown said. "I had a great feeling (on the last drive) we were going to go in and score the winning touchdown."
Instead, a screen to Johnson – which looked like it would have gone for good yardage – was batted down on a nice play by Rams defensive end Robert Quinn. On third down, wide receiver Jaron Brown couldn't haul in a high pass. The fourth down pass to Johnson never really had a chance.
"From (the) 20 to (the) 20, we moved the football," wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald said. "We ran the football. We threw the football. It was just we bogged down in the red zone. I don't know what our total yardage was but it had to be around 400. We were productive offensively, but the turnovers and the miscues in the red zone, it's hard to overcome that in this business."
The Cardinals came into the game 11-of-12 in the red zone scoring touchdowns.
"You're not going to come in and go 90 percent against that team in the red zone," Palmer said. "But you need to go 50 (percent) and we didn't do that."
That's why the statistics were misleading. Fitzgerald had another seven catches for 99 yards. John Brown had seven catches for 75 yards and Michael Floyd got involved with five receptions for 59 yards and one big pass interference drawn in the end zone.
But that came early and was the perfect example of the woes near the goal line. Two Chris Johnson runs lost a yard each. On third down, Palmer hit David Johnson for what should've been a touchdown. Johnson dropped the ball.
The other turnovers came on Johnson's fumbled return, a Fitzgerald fumble – after a 22-yard catch to get inside Rams territory – and a Palmer deep bomb interception in which John Brown looked like he had a step. Arians said Palmer threw it a little late, and cornerback Janoris Jenkins made a great play to pick the ball, trapping it against his helmet.
"I didn't make enough plays to help us win," said Palmer, who completed 29-of-46 passes for 352 yards. "When you're the quarterback, you need to do that."
Not only did the Rams score off the Cardinals' turnovers – 17 points in all -- the Cardinals didn't benefit from any turnovers themselves for the first time this season. There was one possibility, when running back Benny Cunningham seemed to fumble at his own 9-yard line on the final play of the third quarter.
Defensive end Frostee Rucker picked up the ball, but the officials deemed Cunningham's forward progress had stopped – a debatable decision – and the Rams got to punt instead of the Cards having the ball inside the St. Louis 10. The Cardinals scored on the ensuing drive, but only a field goal.
Rams quarterback Nick Foles was smart with the ball. He only had 16 completions for 171 yards, but he had three touchdown passes. And Gurley, who had exactly minus-two yards rushing after his first attempt of the second half, went crazy in the final 23 minutes of the game.
"Their defense outplayed our defense when it mattered," cornerback Jerraud Powers said. "We still had a chance to win at the end of the day. You can always look on the bright side of things, still had a chance to win it.
"In this division, it's what you're going to get. If one defense outplays the other defense, they usually win the game."
Images from the Week 4 regular season matchup against St. Louis