Cardinals wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald looks for room to run against the Rams earlier this season.
ST. LOUIS – The thought of revenge, Rashad Johnson said, doesn't dominate NFL locker rooms.
But this week, the Cardinals' veteran safety is one of plenty that knows Sunday's matchup with the Rams carries with it the baggage of one of his team's two losses, a painful 24-22 defeat at University of Phoenix Stadium in early October that still stings.
"It's a team that, you know, we're not afraid to say we don't like," Johnson said. "They are in our division and they came into our home and beat us. It's a big deal for us to go on the road, try and get this win and reset the way we think it
That the Rams delivered one of the Cards' two losses is part of the problem. Even if the Cardinals (9-2) had won the game, however, there is still an undercurrent that flows between the teams that makes the rematch more important – at least to the Cardinals.
"They're in our division. We don't like anybody in our division, you know?" Cardinals coach Bruce Arians said. "I'll have dinner with them, but I ain't liking them. I ain't drinking with them!"
Such feelings have been apparent since the Cardinals – who lost starting quarterback Carson Palmer to a torn ACL (non-contact, it should be noted) in the team's first 2014 meeting – beat the Rams in St. Louis, 12-6, late last season. It was an emotional, playoff-clinching win for a decimated Cardinals team that lost backup quarterback Drew Stanton in that game.
This year's initial matchup saw rookie David Johnson fumble away the opening kickoff, and the Rams' subsequent short-field touchdown left the Cardinals trailing the rest of the day. The Cards had three turnovers, the Rams had none, Palmer couldn't get his team in the end zone (1-of-5 in the red zone) and a last-minute drive for a game-winning field-goal try fell about 20 yards short.
"To drop a divisional game at home, it was a devastating blow," wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald said. "We definitely need to make up for that loss. You can't ever take them back but it can be something of a makeup. They haven't lost a
divisional game so we know what we're getting into. It's the most physical team we'll see all season."
Palmer was sacked a season-high four times in the game but also threw for 352 yards. He admitted he's been looking forward to seeing the Rams again. Palmer's misfires in the final three passes of the game ended the comeback chance.
Palmer did say he has no hard feelings toward the Rams after hurting his knee against them. But asked if he has an issue with the Rams, he backed his coach.
"Well, he's got one, so we have one, you know?" Palmer said. "I look forward to this opportunity to play against them because they're a very good defense. But if our coach doesn't like them, then we don't like them."
To all this, the Rams have collectively shrugged this week.
"If they don't like us, that's perfectly OK," linebacker James Laurinaitis told St. Louis reporters.
"Our feelings aren't hurt at all."
Arians did say – as did the Rams – that intra-divisional games tend to foster these kind of feelings. The sides know each other well, and they play twice a season. That just increases the intensity.
"I just think that every time we play them it's a 60-minute fistfight," safety Tyrann Mathieu said. "It usually comes down to the last couple of drives. It's highly competitive. They do a lot after the whistle, during the whistle, so it's one of those games you have to be pumped up for. You have to be willing to do whatever to try to get a win."