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What Could Have Been

Cards, Rams had different expectations for first meeting


The Cardinals and Rams expected to battle for the NFC West title this season.

Before the season started, there was expectation that the Cardinals and Rams would end up battling in the NFC West.

Of course, it would have been for first place, not last. Yet the teams meet for the first time Sunday at University of Phoenix Stadium doing just that, sporting identical 1-6 records and trying to figure out how the high hopes of the preseason evaporated so quickly.

"I am very frustrated," Cardinals defensive tackle Darnell Dockett said. "We put ourselves in this situation, but we are facing adversity in a major way."

The parallels are many between the teams. Both starting quarterbacks are longshots to play Sunday, with the Cardinals' Kevin Kolb battling a bad turf toe and the Rams' Sam Bradford still recovering from a high-ankle sprain. The offenses can't score enough consistent points; the defenses can't come up with consistent stops.

One difference: The Cards are still mired in a losing streak after winning their first game of the season, while the Rams just snapped theirs with an upset of the New Orleans Saints last weekend.

"Whenever you do winless for a little bit, the mood changes and things become not as fun," Rams running back Steven Jackson said. "The life has returned to the locker room."

The popular pick to steal a division title this year, the Rams' early-season schedule has been brutal. Teamed with a rash of injuries – especially in the secondary – a lack of playmakers on offense to go with Bradford and Jackson, and a defense that has been terrible against the run, St. Louis has settled to the bottom of the division.

"In this league, all those things considered, there are no excuses," Rams coach Steve Spagnuolo said.

Somehow, the Cardinals are there themselves, but in a more precarious spot. The Rams have already played without Bradford for a couple of weeks and backup A.J. Feeley piloted the win. Cardinals' backup John Skelton, if he plays, has much less experience.

Jackson is also healthy now after spending the first month or so battling a quadriceps injury. The Cards' top runner, Beanie Wells, is having a good season but will have to play through his sore knee again. Those things would be easier to take had the Cardinals held on in Baltimore last week, but they did not.

"No team is beating us. We are beating ourselves," Dockett said. "Our effort is at an all-time high. I watched the film. Guys are sacrificing and doing things for the team and the wins aren't there. We have to continue playing. No one outside our locker room is going to feel sorry for us. The Rams sure don't."

The game is the Cards' last at home for a month, with three straight road games looming at Philadelphia, San Francisco and then a St. Louis rematch. The need to snap the streak now seems to have gained a greater urgency.

"It's definitely past due," wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald said. "We need to get it done."

Spagnuolo noted that both teams are going to have to "scrape, crawl, scratch" to get back in the race, which isn't really a race at all with the surprising 49ers cruising along with a 6-1 record before a trip to slumping Washington this weekend.

It doesn't mean there aren't things to play for, however.

"Somebody," Dockett said, "has got to come out of last place."

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