Monday, December 8, 2008

Ironies aplenty in Arizona win over Rams


In an embarrassing season marked by ritual humiliations, the Rams suffered further indignity Sunday.

They literally handed the Arizona Cardinals the NFC West title with another mistake-prone performance.

Losing to the Cardinals was nothing new. Our Town’s old team, still owned by William V. (For Victory) Bidwill, spanked the Rams 34-13 earlier this season at The Ed.

Coming into this “showdown,” Arizona had won its previous four games against the Rams by a combined 150-83 score.

This time, though, the stakes were greater. Their 34-10 victory vaulted the Cardinals back into the NFL playoffs.

The Gridbirds (8-5) clinched their first division crown since 1975. They shook off gruesome losses to Philadelphia and the New York Giants and got back to enjoying their breakthrough season.

Cardinals quarterback Kurt Warner, the old Rams hero, continued his MVP quest at the expense of his old team. He completed 24 of 33 passes for 279 yards and a touchdown.

He put receivers Anquan Boldin, Larry Fitzgerald and Steve Breaston to work, along with speedy running back Tim Hightower. This isn’t quite the “Greatest Show on Turf,” but it’s better than any football the Valley of the Sun had seen before.

The Cardinals stormed to a 20-7 lead at the half and 27-7 after three quarters. This was never much of a game, obviously.

The Rams, now 2-11, made huge blunders on both sides of the ball. And place-kicker Josh Brown contributed a missed field goal at the worst possible time.

“I thought the missed field goal started all this stuff, a chip shot for him,” Rams interim head coach Jim Haslett told Rams Radio. “The offense moved the ball well, we just have to capitalize. We can’t turn the ball over.”

Running back Steven Jackson fumbled twice, killing a would-be scoring drive with the first and handing the Cardinals a TD with the second. Jackson proved the Rams are just as bad with him as without him.

Marc Bulger did his part, too, getting intercepted late for a touchdown -– a 99-yard romp by Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie. The pass was supposed to go to Torry Holt in the end zone, but, hey, bad things happen to bad teams.

“Three turnovers and a missed field goal – to me, that is another turnover – is a killer,” Haslett grumbled. “The defense, after the first drive, settled down and played pretty good.”

The sole Rams touchdown came on a 6-yard “drive” after cornerback Ron Bartell intercepted a Warner pass and nearly ran it all the way back. Otherwise, the visitors didn’t get much done.

So this became a day of celebration in Glendale, one shared by former Cardinal greats like Jim Hart and a house full of long-suffering fans.

This celebration could have belonged to the Rams. They could have exploited the weak division this year and returned to the playoffs.

But for a host of reasons -– some out of their control, most within their control -– they failed horribly.

Theoretically, Haslett could extend his stay by beating division also-rans Seattle and San Francisco at home. Pragmatically, though, co-owner Chip Rosenbloom must order a complete overhaul of the football operation and get new eyes looking at all the problems.

Dramatic franchise turnarounds are possible in the NFL. In fact, they happen all the time.

Just ask the Arizona Cardinals, the champions of the NFC West.

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