With the division-leading Seattle club sitting pretty with a 9-2 record, only the winner of this contest would have even a prayer of catching them for the divisional crown. Of course, both of these teams were in much better position to earn a wildcard berth, but with the NFC East having 3 teams with 8-3 records, second-place in the West has become golden. Fortunately, the Redbirds took the first game, making this much more of a must-win situation for the Rams. Again, the Cardinals would be without the services of RB Edgerrin James who, despite showing excellent progress by returning to portions of practice on Wednesday and Thursday, could not prove to head coach Dennis Green that he was 100 percent. Green has said repeatedly that he will not rush James back to the playing field and his resolve has certainly been strengthened by the solid performance of RB Marcel Shipp over the last two weeks.
The playoff-like atmosphere that was felt at the beginning of this game can either be extremely intimidating or exhilarating to the visiting team. Unfortunately for the Cardinals and their fans, it proved to be the former for the Redbirds, at least initially. After the two squads exchanged 3-and-outs, the Cardinals took over at their own 27 yard line and quickly wilted. QB Kurt Warner stepped back to throw, but a missed block by Shipp allowed LB Will Witherspoon to slip by on the blitz and end the quarterback's brief homecoming. Warner sustained another concussion, this one severe, and would end up staying overnight at a St. Louis hospital for observation. His status for next week's game is unclear and he is listed as day-to-day.
As Green had hinted during the last two weeks, QB Matt Leinart made his first NFL appearance in a role that wasn't mop-up duty. Although he did not overly impress anyone with his play, he did well enough, not forcing any passes or making bad decisions. He was sacked four times during the course of the contest, but committed no turnovers.
Neither offense put on a dazzling display, mainly due to well-executed defensive plans by both teams, but the Rams were able to put one decent drive together midway through the second quarter. It started at their own 39 with QB Marc Bulger throwing a laser between the double-team of CB David Macklin and FS Robert Griffith to connect with WR Torry Holt, who picked up another 22 yards after the catch to set the Rams up at the Arizona 28. RB Steven Jackson then took consecutive handoffs, which brought the offensive unit down the 17. Anticipating a passing play for the endzone, Arizona sent SS Adrian Wilson in on a blitz that knocked both the quarterback and the drive of its feet. Although the St. Louis squad was able to pick up the resulting fumble, they were unable to move the ball further and had to settle for a 41-yard FG by K Jeff Wilkins to take a 3-0 lead to the locker rooms at halftime.
As it would turn out, the only TD scored in this contest happened 14 seconds into the third quarter. Rookie KR Marques Hagans received the ball nearly 5 yards deep in the endzone then proceeded to ignore a signal from his teammate to kneel the ball, taking it to the right side where he found no free defenders waiting for him. In fact, no Cardinals tackler even came within 3 yards of Hagans until K Neil Rackers forced him inside at the Cardinals 45, but wasn't able to make contact, as CB Travis Fisher was there to throw a devastating crack-back block on the kicker. From there, Hagans sauntered in the endzone as the crowd went into a frenzy.
Leinart and the rest of the Cardinals offense did not perform horribly in the second half, but were only able to put together two respectable drives. Both of which resulted in FGs after the stalling inside the Rams' 20. WR Larry Fitzgerald had a fine second half, catching 6 passes for 86 yards, after coming back from the ankle injury that prevented him from playing in last week's affair. Matt Leinart would finish the defensive-dominated contest with 18-35 passing for 196 yards. Marcel Shipp had his worst outing of the year, even when compared to games in which he saw limited action, only picking up 22 yards on 14 carries.
Cardinals lose 10-6.
The Cardinals don't have time to dwell on this loss, as they have to prepare for the division-leading Seahawks. With this loss, they are on the outside looking in with regards to the playoff picture and this week's game would be important even if they weren't playing Seattle. QB Matt Hasselbeck has thrown 176 passes without an interception and RB Shaun Alexander has punished the league with over 1400 yards already this season. It looks like the only thing that Arizona can depend on being in their favor come Sunday will be home field. The Cardinals will likely have Edgerrin back, but unless Warner (or Leinart) is able to get this passing attack back on track, it could be a long game for Redbird fans.