GLENDALE, Ariz. (AP) — The Arizona Cardinals turned to rookie Ryan Lindley hoping he would be the answer to their season-long quarterback quandary.
The search goes on.
Lindley threw four interceptions in his first NFL start, including two returned for touchdowns by St. Louis rookie Janoris Jenkins, sending the Cardinals to their seventh straight loss, 31-17 to the Rams on Sunday.
“I punched myself pretty good today,” Lindley said. “It obviously wasn’t the outcome, the start I wanted, we wanted.”
Lindley’s rough day was the difference in a game between teams stuck in a tailspin since St. Louis beat Arizona 17-3 on Oct. 4.
The Cardinals, 4-0 headed into that game, went on to lose six straight behind a lackluster offense that struggled to score even after the defense forced six turnovers against Atlanta last week.
St. Louis was only slightly better after that meeting, losing four games and scraping out a 28-all tie against the NFC West-leading San Francisco 49ers.
The Rams (4-6-1) were a lot better than the Cardinals (4-7) in the rematch.
After going five straight games without forcing a turnover — the third team in 62 years to do that — St. Louis forced four against Arizona. Jenkins had two of those, becoming the first rookie since 1960 and first Rams player to have two interceptions for touchdowns in one game.
Picking up the defensive pressure on Lindley in the second half, St. Louis forced three of his interceptions and held Arizona’s offense to 141 yards while outscoring the Cardinals 17-0.
Sam Bradford was quietly efficient in running the Rams’ offense, throwing 37-yard touchdown passes to Lance Kendricks and Chris Givens. Steven Jackson broke off some big runs with his hard-charging style, finishing with 139 yards on 24 carries.
In desperate need of a win, the Rams got it in emphatic fashion.
“It seems like for weeks or forever we’ve been talking about turnovers,” Rams coach Jeff Fisher said. “We kept saying that they often times come in bunches and they did today.”
Consistency from the quarterback has been a problem for the Cardinals all season.
John Skelton opened the season as the starter and sprained his right ankle in the first game. Kevin Kolb took over the next five games before he suffered a chest injury against Buffalo on Oct. 14. Skelton was the guy the next four games before being replaced by Lindley after struggling against Atlanta last week.
Combined, they’ve thrown 10 touchdowns and eight interceptions, the highest quarterback rating among them Kolb’s 86.1.
A sixth-round draft pick from San Diego State, Lindley looked good early against the Rams, going 7 of 8 passing to set up Beanie Wells for a 1-yard touchdown run on Arizona’s opening drive.
Then, it was hit or miss.
A big miss came on the first play of the second quarter, when Jenkins intercepted Lindley’s pass and returned it 36 yards for a touchdown.
Lindley then led the Cardinals on another drive to set up Wells’ second touchdown, a 12-yard run, and moved them quickly down the field in the final two minutes to set up Jay Feely for a 32-yard field goal that cut St. Louis’ lead to 17-14.
Then it was just ugly for Lindley.
Struggling at times with his reads, Lindley threw an interception on a miscommunication with Larry Fitzgerald, who kept running when Lindley thought he would stop. The rookie then compounded a bad decision with an even worse throw late in the quarter, an off-the-back-foot toss that Jenkins snared easily and raced in for a 39-yard touchdown that put the Rams up 28-17.
Lindley got a bad break on the fourth interception when the ball popped in the air after Fitzgerald lost the handle, ending Arizona’s chances with just under 3 minutes left.
He completed 31 of 52 passes for 312 yards and no touchdowns to finish with a quarterback rating of 44.7.
“At times, he looked as good as you can look; he was on rhythm, he got the ball out quick, very decisive, made some really good throws,” Cardinals coach Ken Whisenhunt said. “I think you just have to understand he’s a young player and he’s got to understand he can’t make a couple of those throws, especially the last one returned for a touchdown.”
The good news for Arizona is that Kolb looked good throwing the ball in practice this week and may be back next weekend against the New York Jets.
The Cardinals hope he’ll be the answer the second time around. NOTES: The last rookie to return two picks for a touchdown was Bobby Franklin of the Cleveland Browns in 1960. … Daryl Washington got his ninth sack, one shy of the Cardinals’ record for a linebacker. … Bradford came out for one play after getting hit by Quentin Groves … Rams K Greg Zuerlein’s miss on a 35-yard field goal in the third quarter was his shortest of the season. … After getting nine sacks in their first game against the Cardinals, the Rams had just one sack on Sunday.