Cardinals wide receiver Jerheme Urban flips the ball behind his back after scoring on an improbable 56-yard touchdown catch during the Cards' 34-13 win.
ST. LOUIS – During its broadcast Sunday, Fox showed highlights from the last Cardinals' team to win a division title – the 1975 version.
Thirty-three seasons have passed since then, by far the longest drought in the league.
Nothing has officially changed that yet. Yet with the Cardinals hammering the Rams at the Edwards Jones Dome, 34-13, the Cards are firmly in control to win the NFC West at the season's midway point.
"This means absolutely nothing because this (season) is a whole lot bigger than a couple of games," said quarterback Kurt Warner, who once again shredded his former team. "The goal is to win a (Super Bowl) championship. We have to keep the pedal down."
The Cardinals – with a 5-3 record after eight games for the first time since 1984 – did have a slight facelift Sunday. The long-talked about change at starting running back finally came about, with rookie Tim Hightower taking the place of veteran Edgerrin James.
Hightower ran for 109 yards on 22 carries. James did not play a snap.
Coach Ken Whisenhunt said it was the flow of the game that kept James out rather than any preconceived plan. The Cards' other tailback, J.J. Arrington, had 62 yards on six carries as the Cardinals averaged 5.4 yards a carry and had 177 total yards rushing.
James was clearly not thrilled he did not play. But he emphasized he held nothing against Hightower – who has become close with James – and that "nothing will come between me and Tim."
Hightower's success, meanwhile, was the highlight of a day of highlights.
It could have been ugly for the Cardinals, after stumbling early. Four straight runs by Hightower starting at the St. Louis 2-yard line on Arizona's first drive couldn't crack the end zone. Larry Fitzgerald uncharacteristically dropped a pair of first-half passes. Eric Green was burned on the Rams' second possession for an 80-yard touchdown by receiver Derek Stanley, who had never had an NFL catch.
The Cards got a needed jump-start from free safety Antrel Rolle, however. Rolle picked off Rams quarterback Marc Bulger early in the second quarter and returned it 40 yards for a tying touchdown.
"That's why (a team) has to work both ways," Rolle said about backstopping the offense.
Suddenly, the malaise the Cardinals had found themselves in was gone.
By the time the second quarter was over, Arizona had scored 24 points – the first time that had happened since the Cards had 24 points in the fourth quarter of a home win over Detroit, Nov. 18, 2001.
The defense got three more points when safety Adrian Wilson came up with his first sack of the season, forcing a fumble that was recovered in St. Louis territory. Hightower broke off an electric 30-yard touchdown run.
Then the Cards took total control. After a Rams' three-and-out following Hightower's TD, Warner threw a bomb to a streaking Jerheme Urban. The pass should have been intercepted by Jonathan Wade, but Wade couldn't control it. Urban, however, managed to stay focused enough to haul in the bobbling ball and run it the rest of the 56 yards for a touchdown.
"They say good teams get bounces," Whisenhunt said. "Maybe it means we are becoming a good team."
Whisenhunt was proud his team took that lead into the half and then finished off the Rams (2-6). With the newfound running game, the Cardinals piled up 510 yards of offense.
Anquan Boldin and Fitzgerald each had six catches to lead the Cards for 85 and 81 yards, respectively. Boldin also had yet another touchdown catch, his eighth of the season.
Warner, meanwhile, got past some early troubles and an 8-for-17 start to complete 23 of 34 passes for 342 yards – his 45th career 300-yard game.
Bulger never could get it going, and veteran receiver Torry Holt had a couple of drops while the St. Louis crowd – which got a rare thrill at halftime when former Rams coach Dick Vermeil was inducted into the team's ring of honor – rained boos down on the team.
The Cards await San Francisco, on a bye this week, for a Monday night game in a week. They'll do so knowing the path to the NFC West now goes through Arizona.
"This feels good," Boldin said. "Obviously we are not where we want to be and there is still half a season to go, but right now, it feels good."
Contact Darren Urban at email@example.com. Posted 11/2/08.