Patrick Peterson returns a punt during Thursday night's loss in St. Louis.
The more the St. Louis Rams punted to Patrick Peterson, the closer he was to breaking free for a touchdown.
But that didn't stop St. Louis from running that risk Thursday night.
Five times the Rams punted to Peterson and five times both sidelines and the 54,653 inside the Edward Jones Dome held their collective breath. They took an extra gasp on punt No. 4, when Peterson spun out of a tackle and nearly broke loose down the Cardinals' sideline for a touchdown late in the fourth quarter. But he was tripped up and stepped out of bounds.
"Those guys are playing with fire," Peterson said as he ran by Deion Sanders, Michael Irvin and Marshall Faulk, who called the game Thursday night for the NFL Network.
After returning four punts for touchdowns last season, Peterson hasn't returned one yet this season but he's not pressing nor is he anxious.
"Not at all," Peterson said. "I'm just going to continue staying patient. It'll come to me."
Peterson has been getting closer to breaking free as the season's matured and came closest thus far Thursday night, when he had returns of 11, 19, 2, 26 and 18 – numbers that aren't staggering, but Peterson was one broken tackle away from paydirt on most of the returns.
The Rams even kicked it out of bounds twice to thwart a return. On three of his returns, Peterson gave the Cardinals field position at the 50 or closer, but the Cardinals' offense couldn't produce points on any of those drives in a 17-3 loss.
And if giving the Cardinals field position in St. Louis territory wasn't enough, Peterson had an acrobatic interception in the back of the end zone that stalled a Rams' drive in the third quarter.
"He almost single-handedly kept us in the game," coach Ken Whisenhunt said. "The interception was huge and he had a couple punt returns he almost broke. Honestly, it put us back in it.
"If we score a touchdown there, we have a chance to tie it up."
With less than two minutes left in the first half, Peterson had his longest return of the game, 35 yards, that once again set the Cardinals' up in Rams' territory. But an offsides penalty against Alfonso Smith negated the run, and the Cardinals eventually regained possession at their 6-yard-line off a punt that sailed out of bounds.
"That would've been big," linebacker Daryl Washington said. "That would've been crucial, maybe even changed the whole game around. Maybe."
CARDS' GREAT TAKES IN HISTORY
Former Cardinals wide receiver Mel Gray attended the team's alumni reunion Thursday. He came knowing he'd see a football game and some old friends.
What he didn't know, however, was that he'd see his franchise record for most consecutive games with a catch broken.
It didn't take long. Receiver Larry Fitzgerald's catch on the Cardinals' first offensive possession gave him a reception in 122 straight games, one more than Gray's 30-year-old record.
"Records are made to be broken," Gray said before the game. "And I would love to have him do it. He's a heck of a wide receiver. Big, graceful, good hands, good speed. He's going to be around for a long time."
Fitzgerald returned the adorning compliments.
"To be mentioned in the same breath as him means a lot to me," Fitzgerald said. "It's an honor that he would even be here."
Gray joined former Cardinals on the field before the game and got an up-close look at Fitzgerald warming up. But Gray, who played for the Cardinals from 1971-82, really wanted Fitzgerald's autograph, which he wasn't able to get.
"To be in that company, c'mon man," Gray said. "Everybody wants to be Larry Fitzgerald."
WILLIAMS, TOLER UNFAZED BY INJURIES
A few plays after Greg Toler pulled up holding his left hamstring after allowing a 51-yard touchdown pass, running back Ryan Williams laid motionless on the field after taking a head to the left shoulder.
Both players walked off under their own power and said after the game they were feeling fine.
Toler injured his hamstring and will know the severity of it this weekend. Williams said his teammates told him not to move, but he was moving his fingers and toes while laying on the ground.
"I didn't black out or anything," Williams said. "No concussion or anything. My whole shoulder went down and went numb. So then I got up, figured it was something with my AC joint. I was like, 'At least it's not my leg,' so shot it up went back out there but coach wouldn't put me back in the game.
"But it's just something else I will have to overcome."