Rams special teams shine in win over Cardinals
GLENDALE, Ariz. (AP) Much has been made of the offensive eruption of second-year quarterback Jared Goff and the Los Angeles Rams under first-year coach Sean McVay.
And people already knew the Rams’ defense was good.
Add special teams to Los Angeles’ strengths, as evidenced by that unit’s performance in Sunday’s 32-16 victory over the Arizona Cardinals.
Michael Brockers blocked Phil Dawson’s try for a 45-yard field goal that would have cut the Los Angeles lead to seven points early in the fourth quarter. Earlier, the Rams blocked an extra point.
In the third quarter, there was a 70-yard punt by Johnny Hekker from the Rams 9 followed shortly by Pharoh Cooper’s 30-yard punt return to set up a touchdown.
”We’re trying to make a play every time,” Cooper said of the special teams units. ”That’s the mentality. We’re not just trying to hold up and expect a fair catch. If I have a chance to go, we’re going, and that’s how we feel about it.”
Greg Zuerlein kicked four field goals, including one from 56 yards.
”There’s a lot of pride from everybody, not just one guy,” Zuerlein said of the special teams. ”Everyone from the top down.”
The Rams’ sixth win in seven games clinched their first winning season since 2003, when they were in St. Louis and went 12-4, and they remain alone in first in the NFC West.
Next up is a big home game against NFC East leader Philadelphia on Sunday.
”It feels good,” linebacker Alex Ogletree said. ”9-3 is better than 8-3, and 10-3 would be even better.”
The Cardinals (5-7) have to win out in order to avoid a second straight non-winning season, beginning with a home game against Tennessee next Sunday.
Here are some things to consider from the Rams’ win over Arizona.
Blaine Gabbert will remain the starting quarterback for the Cardinals, despite two early interceptions that helped Los Angeles build an early 16-0 lead.
”He’s been improving each week,” Arizona coach Bruce Arians said. ”We’ll see what he’s got.”
Gabbert’s first pass of the game was deep and was intercepted by Lamarcus Joyner, who returned it 46 yards to set up the Rams’ first touchdown. Later, Ogletree picked off Gabbert’s pass and returned it for a score.
”That was a great play by him,” Gabbert said.
Ogletree did a head-first flip into the end zone at the end of his 41-yard interception return for a first-quarter touchdown.
”I kind of overthought it,” he said. ”At the last second, I tried to do a flip. It was good though.”
A short time later, he left the game for good with an elbow injury.
But he said he wasn’t hurt on the flip.
”It was friendly fire. It’s hyperextended,” Ogletree said. ”But I’m feeling all right. I got hit on it. I tried to go back out there and keep playing, but I wasn’t able to use it.”
TOUGH KERWYNN: With Adrian Peterson out with a neck injury, Kerwynn Williams played most of the game as Arizona’s running back, even though he has cracked ribs.
Williams wound up with 97 yards, three shy of his career best, on 16 carries.
”I think you just have to go,” he said of playing hurt. ”Honestly, if you think about it too much, it will slow you down.”
Todd Gurley carried 19 times for 74 yards for the Rams but he was even more effective as a pass receiver, catching six for 84 yards. That gave him 158 yards from scrimmage.
”Todd’s a special player,” McVay said. ”As many ways as we can get the ball in his hands, good things have happened.”
It was another day of milestones for Arizona’s Larry Fitzgerald, who caught 10 passes (on 10 targets) for 98 yards and a touchdown.
In the process, Fitzgerald moved ahead of Isaac Bruce for fourth in NFL career yards receiving with 15,267. He needs 26 yards to pass Randy Moss into third. Fitzgerald is third in career receptions (1,207).
He joined Jerry Rice and Tony Gonzalez as the only players to top 1,200 career receptions.
All of which, he said, meant little because it was a loss.
”The season hasn’t gone the way we hoped. It’s hard to take any joy in losing,” Fitzgerald said. ”When I’m done and retired, when I see you over at Starbucks one day, we can reminisce about it, but I don’t feel good about it now.”
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