Recap Review Week 3
St. Louis wins, 16-14
Predicted score: Arizona 17-3
The game began with much promise, as was predicted. Unfortunately, that's where the similarity between our fictional recap, The Recap: 2006 Week 3 St. Louis @ Arizona, and reality ends. After the Cardinals stumbled out of the blocks to open the game, the defensive unit held the Rams to a three-and-out. The offensive unit took this early opportunity to march right down the field and open up the scoring with a Larry Fitzgerald TD reception.
The Redbird offense was rendered ineffective from that point on until late in the 4th quarter. Although the unit was able to mount several serious drives against the St. Louis defense, they faltered miserably when it mattered most. Leading 7-3 with 6:25 left in the first half, Arizona was facing a 3rd-and-2 at the Rams' 13, well within Neil Racker's range. Virtually guaranteed points, right? One thing all Cardinals fans know is that scoring is never guaranteed in the desert. Instead of padding their early lead, the Cards turned the ball over on a tipped pass that was picked out of the air by Oshiomogho Atogwe. Not only did this drive stall in the redzone without point production, but to make matters worse, the St. Louis offense used this change in momentum to take the lead. They needed only five plays to move the ball 94 yards for their first TD of the day, coming on a 9-yard Torry Holt reception.
Not one to miss a beat, Warner threw another interception, this time to Fakhir Brown at the Cardinal 45, on his very next attempt. Of course, this turnover also led to points, as Jeff Wilkins hit his second of three fieldgoals in the game as time expired in the second quarter. This turn of events was probably the most crucial due to the fact that Arizona went from very nearly putting a chokehold on this contest 14-3 to going into the lockerroom down 13-7.
Although the back-to-back Warner INT parade was the key point in this one, most people will probably remember this contest for its crazy ending. The Arizona offense woke again in the 4th quarter, just in time to make a game of it. Trailing 16-7 with 12:37 left, the Cardinals took over at their own 13. Kurt Warner picked apart the St. Louis zones, throwing to three different receivers, while James did the same on the ground. The drive culminated in a 6-yard off-tackle TD jaunt for James, tightening the score 16-14.
The Redbird defense knew that after the 8-minute drive and with only 2 timeouts, it was on their shoulders to get the offense back onto the field for a chance to take the lead and the victory. Initially, it looked as though they were up to the task, stuffing Steven Jackson for a 2-yard loss on first down. Marc Bulger then made two big completions, giving St. Louis a crucial first down with the 2-minute warning approaching. Head Coach Denny Green challenged the second of these, a 6-yard Holt reception that appeared to be a clean catch. The ruling on the field was upheld, but the upside to the situation was that the Rams were forced to run a play before the clock stoppage at two minutes and this is where things became somewhat bizarre.
Bulger was unable to receive the snap cleanly and subsequently fumbled the ball away to Antonio Smith at his own 30 yard line. The Cardinals now found themselves in a prime position to win the game. The Cards drove down to the Rams' 18, at which point St. Louis took their final timeout with 1:47 left in the game. Essentially, all that the Cardinals would need to do to win this game is run the clock down and have Neil Rackers kick the final FG. Instead, Warner took a play out of Bulger's book and fumbled the ball after colliding with an offensive lineman. Will Witherspoon recovered the fumble, all but handing his team the victory.
In my defense, it was predicted that Warner would have a rough time against this defense (predicted: 11-24 for 143 yards, actual: 19-28, 256 yards) and that Edgerrin James would enjoy some moderate success (predicted: 26 carries, 95 yards, actual: 24 carries, 94 yards). The defense played as well as predicted, putting pressure on Bulger and covering pretty well, but not able to keep St. Louis off the scoreboard as well as was though. Also know that only a good defensive play by Coakley in the endzone prevented me from gloating over having called Leonard Pope's first TD of his career. In the end though, this game turned out to be just another Redbird heartbreaker.
Things only get tougher for the Cardinals as they next face the Falcons on the road. Atlanta will pose serious problems for this defense as Michael Vick and company have already hit their stride, winning their first two versus divisional foes. On grass, this is a tough offense to cover, but on turf, the task becomes exponentially more difficult. What is typically overlooked, though, is the fact that this Falcons squad boasts a very good defensive unit, as well. Unless the Cardinals tighten up their offensive execution, they will not have a chance to win in Atlanta. The defense has performed admirably the last two weeks, but is not strong enough to carry the team to victory without better offensive production. Be ready to cover your eyes next Sunday, because it may get ugly.