Phoenix team owner Bill Bidwill’s ultimatum that Coach Joe Bugel direct his team to nine victories this season or else be fired was obviously unfair.
The Rams, after all, were scheduled to play the Cardinals only once this season.
The best the Cardinals (4-8) can hope for now is falling one game short of Bidwill’s goal, but on Sunday the Rams had Bugel looking like NFL coach of the year after taking a 38-10 nose-dive in Sun Devil Stadium.
The Cardinals’ 38 points were the most scored in a game during Bugel’s four-year tenure here, and the most by Phoenix since a 41-27 victory over the Rams in 1988.
“We stunk it up,” Ram safety Anthony Newman said. “We’re not playing the way we played in the past. This is ridiculous . . . we’re giving up 30-some points a game.”
The Rams (3-9), who have lost seven of their last eight games, have been outscored 73-20 the past two weeks. This loss, which marked the fifth time this season the opposition has scored at least 30 points, also guarantees the Rams a fourth consecutive losing season.
“You have to give the Cardinals credit,” Ram Coach Chuck Knox said. “They whipped us in every way that you can be whipped. Obviously, I’m disappointed by the type of things that happened to us out there. It wasn’t pretty.”
The Cardinals were successful on nine of 12 third-down plays (75%), while the Rams converted only four of 12 (33%). In addition, the Cardinals blocked a 56-yard field goal try by Tony Zendejas, intercepted a T.J. Rubley pass at the Phoenix six-yard line, and returned a Jim Everett fumble to the Rams’ 11-yard line.
In last week’s 35-10 loss to San Francisco, the Rams saw 49er quarterback Steve Young throw for four touchdowns. Against Phoenix, the Rams saw running back Ron Moore become the first Cardinal to score four rushing touchdowns since Wayne Morris’ effort in 1977 against New Orleans.
Moore, who probably would have spent the season on the bench behind Garrison Hearst if Hearst hadn’t suffered a season-ending knee injury, scored on three one-yard runs and one of 19 yards.
The Cardinals ran Moore 29 times for 126 yards, and had quarterback Steve Beuerlein throwing to wide receiver Gary Clark, who took advantage of Wymon Henderson’s soft coverage. Clark caught eight passes for 159 yards, including a 22-yard touchdown.
“At this point I think we’re just searching for answers,” Ram defensive end Fred Stokes said. “When you start losing, it’s mental. Once somebody gets ahead, it’s like, ‘Here we go again . . .’ That might be one of our biggest problems: It’s up in our head.”
The Cardinals went ahead by 28-3 with one minute remaining in the third quarter, and Knox responded by inserting Everett into the game in place of Rubley.
“It was a little unexpected,” Rubley said. “We were struggling a little bit and Coach Knox felt it was time for a change. Jim came in and did the best he could.”
Rubley, who had been appointed the team’s starting quarterback for the remainder of the season a week ago, completed five of 15 passes for 89 yards with an interception before being yanked.
“We were just looking for someone at the position that could possibly come in there and energize us,” Knox said. “We thought Jim could do that.
“We were running the ball well and usually when you run the football you ought to be able to mix and sprinkle some passes in there. We weren’t having much success . . . (running back Jerome) Bettis was moving the chains, but you have to be able to pass the football, too.”
Bettis, who ran for 133 yards a week ago, had 115 against the Cardinals--who had limited Dallas’ Emmitt Smith to 87 yards and the Giants’ Rodney Hampton to 46. In their last four games, the Cardinals had limited the opposition to 74.5 rushing yards per game.
“We were frustrated,” Ram quarterback coach Ted Tollner said. “We are doing good things with a big, physical, dominant back, and that’s a motivating factor for this football team. But when it’s time to make something happen with the pass, we’re not getting it done.”
Everett completed a 12-yard pass to Henry Ellard after entering the game, but then was sacked and fumbled on the next play. Defensive lineman Michael Bankston recovered at the Ram 18 and returned it seven yards, setting up Gary Davis’ 27-yard field goal.
Everett returned on the Rams’ next possession to throw three consecutive incomplete passes, and after a Sean Landeta punt, the Cardinals needed three plays to score again, with Moore carrying one yard for his fourth touchdown, making the score 38-3.
Everett, who completed six of 13 passes for 68 yards, guided the Rams to their only touchdown with a 16-play, 81-yard drive, culminating with his four-yard pass to tight end Troy Drayton.
“At this point you just have to try everything,” Ram offensive tackle Irv Eatman said. “Whether it is rotating the quarterbacks or rotating the tackles or whatever. You got to try everything at this point--it’s a little bit of a desperate situation at this point in terms of wins and losses.”
A little bit?
“OK, it’s an extremely desperate situation,” Eatman said.