The last time the Arizona Cardinals were 8-1?
They were the Chicago Cardinals.
NFL-leading Arizona achieved that feat again Sunday, matching the club’s starts in 1925 and 1948, with a 31-14 victory over the visiting St. Louis Rams.
On a day when the sputtering NFC West was reanimated — San Francisco edging New Orleans in overtime, and Seattle trampling the New York Giants with 350 yards rushing — the Rams looked as if they might be headed for another upset.
St. Louis, which in the previous three weeks had upset the Seahawks and 49ers, had a 14-10 lead over the Cardinals in the fourth quarter, when Arizona quarterback Carson Palmer fell to the turf in agony with an injury to his left knee, the same joint that was bent backward on a horrific hit nine seasons ago during a Cincinnati playoff game.
According to NFL.com, Palmer is believed to have a torn anterior cruciate ligament, which would end his season.
As Palmer was carted off the field this time — mere days after signing a three-year contract extension — the life was sucked out of the stadium.
Said receiver Larry Fitzgerald of the emotional letdown: “You see a guy, your captain on offense, one of your big leaders on the team, you see him lying down on the ground. We’re human.”
But the Cardinals would rally.
Drew Stanton, who filled in so ably for an injured Palmer earlier this season, brought the Cardinals roaring back on their next series with a 48-yard bomb to John Brown for a touchdown, sparking an exuberant touchdown celebration by the rookie receiver that looked like a John Travolta disco sequence in fast-forward.
The cheering climbed to a crescendo as the Arizona defense piled on two more touchdowns, with cornerback Patrick Peterson tipping a pass to himself for a pick-six, an instant-classic highlight, and Antonio Cromartie running back a sack-fumble for another score.
“As far as hitting our quarterback, we definitely took that personally,” Peterson said. “After Carson went down, obviously it was a noncontact injury, but after he went down, we just wanted to win this ballgame that much more and go out there and try to tee off on their quarterback as well.”
The story of the day for the Cardinals: Palmer’s knee . . . then destiny.
San Francisco careened to the edge of a cliff, teetering on the edge of irrelevance, before a potentially season-saving swerve.
A huge defensive play set up the 49ers’ 27-24 overtime victory at New Orleans. Linebacker Ahmad Brooks stripped Drew Brees of the football while sacking him, and the 49ers recovered the fumble. While the Superdome crowd watched in stunned silence, the 49ers kicked the game-winner on the next play.
A year ago, Brooks was involved in a pivotal, controversial play that helped the Saints to a 23-20 home victory over San Francisco. He was flagged for an illegal hit on Brees that kept alive a key scoring drive.
On Sunday, the most memorable play was a hold-your-breath deep ball by 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick. With his team trailing by three and 1:34 on the clock, Kaepernick faced fourth and 10 at his 22. The play seemed to last forever, as he rolled far to the right, and finally found Michael Crabtree 51 yards downfield. That set up the tying field goal.
The Saints answered with more drama. On the final play of regulation, Brees unleashed a 47-yard Hail Mary for Jimmy Graham, and the star tight end came down with the ball. In exasperation, 49ers Coach Jim Harbaugh flung the papers he was clutching . . . and then he saw the flag. Graham was penalized for shoving cornerback Perrish Cox when the ball was in the air, and the touchdown was nullified.
Graham later argued his case.
“Definitely not a push off,” he said. “I’m running down the field and I’m telling myself not to push off. Whatever you do, don’t push off. Just go up and get it. It’s interesting, you know, how guys grab me everywhere on the field and I put literally two fingers on somebody and you make that kind of call. That’s why I switched. That’s why I left basketball, so I could stop being penalized for hitting people.”
With their power surge in overtime, the 49ers improved to 5-4, and the Saints dropped to 4-5.
“It was paramount for us to come out with a win,” San Francisco left tackle Joe Staley said. “You don’t like to say must-win, but it was a must-win game. We looked at that game as a playoff game, and we had that mind-set coming in.”
During the broadcast, Fox flashed a telling statistic: Since realignment in 2002, teams that are 5-4 have a 49% chance of making the playoffs. But when a team falls to 4-5, that playoff likelihood sinks to 13%.
So Harbaugh’s team could be accurately described as the San Francisco 49-percenters.
Suddenly, the Detroit Lions are the comeback kids. They beat Miami, 20-16, to win their fourth in a row — the last three with fourth-quarter comebacks. The Lions are 7-2 for the first time since 1993, the Barry Sanders era, and head to Arizona on Sunday for a clash of the NFC titans that few people could have predicted at the beginning of the season.
These Lions are the first team since the 1994 New York Giants to score the game-winning points inside the two-minute mark of regulation in three consecutive weeks.
Big D stands for DeMarco
A week after Arizona ended his streak of 100-yard rushing games at eight, Dallas Cowboys running back DeMarco Murray picked up Sunday where he’d left off, running for an even 100 in a 31-17 victory over Jacksonville in London.
The big story of the game was the return of Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo, who two weeks ago suffered two small fractures in his back. He sat out last week’s game against Arizona, his team’s second consecutive loss.
Romo played well against the Jaguars, throwing three touchdown passes, but conceded he was “just sore.”
“Anybody who’s had anything broken before knows it’s uncomfortable at times,” he said. “A little banged up. A lot of guys are banged up. At the end of the day, no one actually cares once you step out onto the field.”
Dallas Coach Jason Garrett said he didn’t detect any physical restrictions for Romo.
"[He] moved around in the pocket, some subtle pocket movements to allow things to develop,” Garrett said. “He really looked like himself.”
The Pittsburgh Steelers were an offensive inferno the previous two weeks, with a combined 12 touchdown passes by Ben Roethlisberger in blowouts of Indianapolis and Baltimore.
But the Steelers sputtered and wheezed in a 20-13 loss to the New York Jets on Sunday, a Rex Ryan team that was severely overmatched on paper. The Jets hadn’t won since a five-point squeaker over Oakland (still winless) in an opener.
Turnovers were Pittsburgh’s undoing. The Steelers had two interceptions and two fumbles, and their own defense failed to pry the ball loose.
“There’s nothing mystical about the outcome of that football game,” Steelers Coach Mike Tomlin said. “We talked all week about why that team struggled — because they were minus in the turnover ratio. . . . Well, they weren’t today. They were plus-four.
“You’re going to lose football games when you’re minus-four in the turnover ratio, and we did today.”
The Jets’ Michael Vick ran for 39 yards to bring his career rushing total to 6,006, making him the first quarterback to reach the 6,000-yard mark.
Legging it out
Former coach Chuck Knox — he of the “Ground Chuck” offense — was famous for rolling up the rushing numbers, but none of his Seattle teams accomplished what Pete Carroll’s Seahawks did Sunday.
In a 38-17 win at home over the New York Giants, the Seahawks got a career-high four rushing touchdowns from Marshawn Lynch, who ran for 140 yards, and 107 more yards on the ground from quarterback Russell Wilson. The Seahawks are the first team in league history to have a running back rush for at least four touchdowns and a quarterback with more than 100 yards rushing in the same game.
Who says this is a passing league?