Prior to Saturday’s night exhibition opener, Phoenix Coach Joe Bugel announced that his team would no longer place a high priority on winning exhibition games.
The Cardinals, however, were matched against the Rams, and the Rams had lackluster plans of their own.
Phoenix used the passing of quarterback Steve Beuerlein to open a 17-3 halftime lead and went on to improve its exhibition record to 8-1 over the past three years with a 24-13 victory over the Rams before 36,803 in Sun Devil Stadium.
Beuerlein, who left Dallas to sign as a free agent with the Cardinals during the off-season, relieved an injured Chris Chandler in the second quarter. He threw a 24-yard touchdown pass to running back Larry Centers to break a 3-3 tie, and then with 44 seconds remaining in the half found tight end Butch Rolle all alone in the end zone for a two-yard touchdown.
Bugel, who indicated the Cardinals will use this exhibition season to evaluate their younger players, has not named a starting quarterback for the regular season. Beuerlein, however, appeared to push himself ahead of Chandler at the Rams’ expense.
Chandler completed six of 10 passes for 51 yards before being knocked out of the game by Ram defensive end Robert Young with a sprained ankle. Beuerlein, the former Raider, shredded the Ram secondary with a 12-for-18 performance for 163 yards.
The Rams, meanwhile, appeared intent on going nowhere until they unleashed their kiddie corps in the second half.
Running back Jerome Bettis, the Rams’ first-round pick, started slowly but then pounded the Cardinals’ defense for 29 yards in eight carries. Bettis also had a 14-yard run negated by a holding penalty against guard Keith Lonek.
“Unlike practice, the preseason gives me a chance to mesh with my teammates at game’s speed,” Bettis said. “The hitting, blocking and catching I can do every day in practice.”
Tight end Troy Drayton, the Rams’ second-round pick, pulled duty as a blocker in the first half. In the second half, he caught a 24-yard pass over the middle, but then later juggled and dropped a short third-down pass.
The Rams, desperate for help at wide receiver, were forced to open with free agent Richard Buchanan in the starting lineup after Henry Ellard injured an ankle Friday in practice.
Buchanan caught one pass for 13 yards in the first half, and then Sean LaChapelle, the team’s fifth-round pick from UCLA, earned an opportunity to impress. LaChapelle caught four passes for 42 yards, including a difficult reception in traffic across the middle.
LaChapelle also finished the game’s scoring with a two-yard touchdown catch on a ball thrown by Mike Pagel with 1:57 left.
“I enjoyed all of it,” LaChapelle said. “The Rams have a good corps of receivers and I am just trying to earn a spot. I believe my role, if I make it, will be as a possession receiver.”
The Rams continued to showcase their youth with the introduction of Russell White in the fourth quarter. White, their No. 3 choice in the draft, ran six times for 26 yards and caught a pair of passes for 33 yards.
The 101-degree heat, however, appeared to take its toll on White, and he was forced to give way to free-agent running back Jay Berry.
The Rams’ look to the future appeared bright with the play of their top draft selections, but the first-half play of their veterans was mostly forgettable.
Tony Zendejas kicked field goals of 23 and 37 yards for the Rams’ other points. . . . The Rams said they will send letters to running back Cleveland Gary and tight end Jim Price this week informing them that if they do not accept the team’s contract offers by Friday they will be forced to miss the regular-season opener and surrender 1/18th of their annual salary. Said Price Saturday night: “I think I will try to get in there (tonight). I haven’t made up my mind for sure, but you don’t want to jeopardize everything.” The Rams do not expect a positive response from Gary. The Rams have offered Gary, who earned $350,000 last season as their leading rusher and receiver, $385,000 for the 1993 season. Gary has asked to be traded, and the Rams have notified teams throughout the league that he’s available for a second-round pick. “No one has called,” said Jay Zygmunt, Ram senior vice president.