A few weeks ago, the Arizona Cardinals looked as if they would be only a minor diversion on the Rams’ road to the playoffs.
Cardinals star running back David Johnson has been sidelined since Week 1 because of a wrist injury. Quarterback Carson Palmer’s season ended when he suffered a broken arm in the Rams’ Week 7 rout of the Cardinals in London.
But the Cardinals showed last week that they won’t be a pushover for the Rams on Sunday at University of Phoenix Stadium.
They defeated the Jacksonville Jaguars 27-24 on a last-second field goal for their second win a row, improving their record to 5-6.
“I hope it gives us a snowball effect,” Cardinals linebacker Chandler Jones told reporters after the game. “The season isn’t going how we wanted, but it’s not over.”
Said coach Bruce Arians: “Don’t bury us quite yet.”
The Rams, under first-year coach Sean McVay, are atop the NFC West with an 8-3 record. The Seattle Seahawks (7-4) are in second place, followed by the Cardinals and the San Francisco 49ers (1-10).
Last week, the Rams bounced back from a loss at Minnesota and defeated the New Orleans Saints 26-20 to end the Saints’ eight-game winning streak.
The red-hot Philadelphia Eagles are coming to the Coliseum next week. The Rams also have games remaining at Seattle and Tennessee, and at home against the 49ers.
It’s a formidable final quarter of the season, but the Rams cannot afford to look past the Cardinals.
After their 33-0 victory over the Cardinals in London — coupled with Palmer’s season-ending injury — Sunday’s rematch appeared to qualify as a “gimme” for the Rams.
Not so much anymore.
Quarterback Blaine Gabbert is no Palmer, but he has helped lead the Cardinals to consecutive victories.
And he has a recent history of success against the Rams.
Last season with the 49ers, he passed for 170 yards and a touchdown, and ran for 43 yards in a 28-0 season-opening victory over the Rams.
Running back Adrian Peterson, shut down by the Rams in London, rushed for 79 yards in 20 carries against the Jaguars, who rank first in total defense but 19th against the run.
Jones is tied for the NFL lead with 12 sacks. He poses another challenge for a Rams offensive line that allowed quarterback Jared Goff to be sacked four times by the Saints.
Saints lineman Cameron Jordan had two sacks, including one when he got past veteran left tackle Andrew Whitworth.
“Andrew had a whole lot of really good plays,” McVay said this week. “But he’s the type of conscientious player that expects greatness and expects perfection. I’m sure that’s the only one that he remembers.”
Whitworth, among the Rams’ most consistent performers this season, also was called for a holding penalty during a 21-yard run by running back Todd Gurley.
Linebacker Robert Quinn’s forced fumble against the Saints was the 19th of his career, the most by any NFL player since Quinn was selected in the first round of the 2012 draft, the Rams said. ... Greg Zuerlein, who kicked four field goals against the Saints, remains the NFL scoring leader with 129 points, 18 more than second-place Stephen Gostkowski of the New England Patriots. … Gurley is averaging 78.6 yards rushing per game, which ranks sixth in the league…. Pharoh Cooper ranks sixth in the NFL in kickoff returns, averaging 29.7 yards per return. ... The Rams were off Tuesday. They resume practice Wednesday.
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