The first fumble all but gave the Cardinals a win. The second one may have torpedoed a season. Sitting well within kicker Neil Rackers’ range with less than two minutes left after Rams quarterback Marc Bulger simply dropped the ball, Cardinals quarterback Kurt Warner capped arguably his most miserable day by fumbling away the ball himself, allowing St. Louis to walk out of Cardinals Stadium with a 16-14 win.
The loss created a range of emotions in the locker room afterward, none of them good.
“I don’t think I’ve been more disappointed since I have been here,” coach Dennis Green fumed. “I am convinced of it. I don’t think I’ve been more angry since I’ve been here. And I’ve had some bad-ass days since I’ve been here, believe me.”
The Cardinals (1-2) have much of the season to play, but Sunday was a game that, frankly, they had counted on being a win. They travel to Atlanta next week desperately needing a victory, yet they are still scratching their heads over what they are doing wrong.
“We’ve got a million excuses,” running back Edgerrin James said. “I am quite sure there are a bunch of excuses we are giving you all this week. We just got to simplify and go play rather than just talking about playing.”
Warner was at the heart of Sunday’s ills. He looked fantastic on the first two drives of the game, as the Cards took a 7-0 lead. But he tried to force a pass to a double-covered Larry Fitzgerald on third-and-2 instead of dumping it to James when the Cards were at the St. Louis 13-yard line, and it was intercepted.
Warner threw an interception on his next pass, leading to a St. Louis field goal. And later, with the ball at the Rams 1, he threw an interception that St. Louis linebacker Dexter Coakley called a “Christmas present,” given that no receiver was near Coakley.
Yet redemption was still within Warner’s grasp. That was thanks to Bulger, the man who replaced him in St. Louis. After the Cards had pulled within 16-14 with a 16-play drive, the Rams (2-1) had already churned out a first down and were trying to run out the clock when Bulger turned to hand the ball off and it slipped out of his hands. Defensive end Antonio Smith jumped on the ball at the St. Louis 30 with 1:58 left.
“I thought the game was over,” Smith said. “I thought we had it.”
So did the 63,278 fans in attendance and everyone on both sidelines.
“I (was) figuring out how I am going to face the team after the game was over,” Bulger said.
The Cardinals moved the ball another 12 yards with 1:46 left while feeding James twice. A third time was not a charm.
Warner took the snap but the ball came loose as he banged it on the rear of center Alex Stepanovich. The Rams recovered, and the Cardinals were stunned.
“I was tapping myself in the head like ‘Wake up! That’s not reality,’ ” defensive tackle Darnell Dockett said.
Amazingly, the Cards got one final chance. The Rams punted the ball on the final play of the game and Troy Walters pulled in a fair catch at the Arizona 33. A little-used NFL rule allows a team a free kick with no rush from the spot of a fair catch.
The Cardinals were going to let Pro Bowl kicker Neil Rackers try a 77-yard field goal, a boot Rackers figured later had about a “5 percent shot.” The problem was Arizona’s Robert Griffith had been offside during the punt. Given a choice, the Rams didn’t bother with a chance to witness history; they accepted the penalty and downed the ball to end the game.
“Since we screwed it up one more time,” Green said, “we didn’t get an attempt at a miracle kick by the best kicker in the game.”
Instead, they got an ugly postgame.
Warner, who was lustily booed by the fans as he ran off the field, was clearly irritated with his day.
“(This loss) sucks like every other day when I lose,” he said. “When you have a direct hand in it, it’s even worse.”
James, speaking in his laid-back, smiling way, made it clear he wasn’t a big enough part of the offense.
And the Cardinals, hoping this would be their playoff year, already suffered a second-division loss.
“When you get punched in the gut there are two kinds of people,” fullback Obafemi Ayanbadejo said. “There are people who respond by throwing a punch and there are people who respond by falling down and who don’t want to fight. I think, playing in the NFL, guys are used to fighting.
“But these are just words. Words don’t mean a lot without action.”
ARI – Larry Fitzgerald 12 pass from Kurt Warner (Neil Rackers kick)
STL – Jeff Wilkins 26 field goal
STL – Torry Holt 9 pass from Marc Bulger (Wilkins kick)
STL – Wilkins 47 field goal
STL – Wilkins 21 field goal
ARI – Edgerrin James 6 run (Rackers kick)