This game featured one offensive touchdown, two safeties, four or five cart trips, and six field goals -- one blocked, and that made all the difference in yet another awful loss for the St Louis Rams under the Spagnuolo regime.
There are three major classes of losses for these Rams: blowout losses to superior opponents, a few close losses against superior opponents that we used to count in the "moral victory" column, and games like these. Horrible losses against inferior opponents where we tried to sit on a slim lead for the entire second half.
That's not to say that the Rams didn't take a few chances in the second half of the game, they did. They kept throwing the ball deep to Brandon Lloyd, kept testing Cardinals rookie cornerback Patrick Peterson, who had primary coverage. But Sam Bradford failed those tests, again and again. In one sense they were a microcosm of the game, a simultaneous example of the aggressive mindset and failure to execute that has doomed this team all season.
Bradford's vaunted deep ball accuracy went for naught as the Rams eschewed any sort of trickery. Quite simply, they just lined up Lloyd on Peterson, sent him on the most basic "go" route imaginable (for those unfamiliar with this verbiage, it means "just run in a straight line"), and professed confusion and dismay as Peterson's makeup speed was more than a match for Lloyd downfield.
No one should have been surprised by this. Peterson's speed is a known. He clocked a 4.34 at the combine, 2nd best among this year's prospects. Brandon Lloyd runs a 4.6 on a good day, and this was not a good day. Perhaps this was an artifact of Bradford almost total lack of practice time with his receiver, but why continue to go to a well that has run dry? It was as though McDaniels, or Bradford, saw some sort of value in continuing to fire warning shots across the Cardinals' bow. Or, in baseball terms, they were too happy to swing for the fences and settle for a loud out when a succession of singles would have done far more damage.
Lloyd led Rams receivers with 80 yards, but only managed to bring in 5 of the 13 passes lofted his way. Peterson caught one of them, too, but that won't count positively in Bradford's line. Call the connection between Lloyd and Bradford "hopeful." But don't call it complete, in more sense than one.
Outside of Peterson shutting down Lloyd, though, it's hard to credit the Cardinals defense with any part of this victory. The Rams dominated time of possession, and owned the field between the twenties. Stop me if this sounds familiar. The only thing that stopped the Rams' offense was themselves.
The short circuited offensive game plan showed up more than once, hamstringing a gutty, brave performance by several of the Rams' offensive players. Steven Jackson had a second consecutive excellent running game, totaling 130 yards on 29 carries including a series of willful 4th quarter runs. But Jackson was stuffed on both 3rd-and-one and the following 4th-and-one play with under two minutes to play. Incongruously, both play calls were exactly the same ... a toss sweep left designed to go between Saffold and Bajema.
By contrast, the Cardinals game plan more than made up for the limitations in talent level, particularly behind center. Arizona repeatedly motioned Larry Fitzgerald and his complement of receivers around, getting them into situations where they were matched up with a Rams linebacker in coverage. This provided an immediate mismatch that even rawboned John Skelton found easy to identify, and take advantage of. The Rams defense played well overall, but not well enough to prevent a game-tying touchdown pass to Fitzgerald on exactly this kind of play.
The Rams defense came up with one final stop, with Chris Long finally getting by his man and getting a strip-sack of Skelton. And a nearly invisible rookie, Austin Pettis, had his finest minute as a Ram with a punt return and long catch and run to give the team a miraculous second chance at victory -- a chance that was blocked away by Calais Campbell with three seconds left on the clock.
This sent the game to overtime, where the Rams tried to test Peterson deep one last time. Peterson won that matchup, again, and then settled at his own ten yard line for a long Donnie Jones punt. The kick rocketed up into the dry desert air, pushing Peterson back to the one yard line.
Waves of Rams special teamers came at him, but their attempts at tackling were just that -- waves. Peterson beat James Butler, Chris Chamberlain and Donnie Jones himself and suddenly found nothing between him and a Cardinals win.
An awful, gut-churning, fouled up mess of a Cardinals win.