Goff, Rams roll past Cardinals
GLENDALE, Ariz. — Jared Goff passed for two touchdowns, linebacker Alec Ogletree returned an interception for a score and the Los Angeles Rams pinned a 32-16 loss on the Arizona Cardinals Sunday at University of Phoenix Stadium.
With their sixth victory in seven games, the Rams (9-3) strengthened their hold on first place in the NFC West and secured their first winning season since 2003.
The loss, meanwhile, all but assured the Cardinals (5-7) of missing the playoffs for a second consecutive season.
Goff threw a 1-yard touchdown to tight end Gerald Everett and an 11-yarder to Sammy Watkins, giving the second-year quarterback 11 touchdown passes in his last five games. Goff was 21 of 31 for 220 yards and was intercepted once.
“I feel like it’s a blessing for me to get traded here to be on a winning team,” said Watkins, who was acquired from the Buffalo Bills. “At 9-3, we’re close to a playoff berth. This has been a blessing.”
The Rams picked off Blaine Gabbert twice, converting both picks into scores. Gabbert, who began the season as Arizona’s third-string quarterback but was pressed into starting action following injuries to both Carson Palmer and Drew Stanton, finished the game 18 of 32 for 221 yards and one touchdown.
After the game, head coach Bruce Arians indicated he will stick with Gabbert next week against the Tennessee Titans even though Stanton has recovered from a sprained right knee.
“Up and down, up and down,” Arians said, rating Gabbert’s performance after three starts. “I think he’s had his really good moments and some poor decisions and some poor moments. Mostly not decisions, more throws. A lot of that can come with chemistry with guys.
“I think that rollercoaster, you’d like to just see it even out a little bit.”
Gabbert’s lone scoring pass was a 15-yarder to veteran wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald, who had 10 catches for 98 yards and surpassed Isaac Bruce (15,206) for fourth place on the NFL’s all-time receiving yards list. Fitzgerald now has 176 receptions in his career against the Rams, the most catches any player has ever had against any team in NFL history.
Greg Zuerlein kicked field goals of 56, 20, 24 and 41 yards for the Rams. The 24-yarder gave Los Angeles a 29-16 lead with 6:18 left to play.
Rams running back Todd Gurley combined for 158 yards from scrimmage, rushing 19 times for 74 yards and catching a team-high six passes for an additional 84 yards.
The Cardinals were playing without running back Adrian Peterson after he sustained a neck injury during last week’s win over Jacksonville. Peterson’s primary backup, Kerwynn Williams, was questionable after suffering two cracked ribs against the Jaguars, but he responded with a big game.
Williams rushed 16 times for 97 yards, although most of that came in the first half during which he rushed for 86 yards.
“He’s tough. He’s one of the toughest players on the team, pound for pound,” fellow Cardinals running back Elijhaa Penny said of Williams. “I knew he was going to play just because I know what kind of competitor he is.”
That was one of the few bright spots for Arizona, which hasn’t been able to post consecutive wins this year.
Right from the start on Sunday, nothing went right for the Cardinals.
Arians lost a challenge on the opening kickoff when he thought his coverage team had stripped the ball away from returner Pharoh Cooper. The replay review proved otherwise, and the Cardinals lost a timeout. Six plays later, which included a dropped interception by Arizona linebacker Karlos Dansby, the Rams led 3-0 on Zuerlein’s 56-yard field goal.
Zuerlein has connected on six of seven attempts this season from 50 yards or longer.
On the Cardinals’ first possession and first offensive snap, Gabbert rolled out of the pocket to his right and heaved a pass downfield off one leg. Lamarcus Joyner made an easy interception and returned the pick 46 yards to help set up another Rams’ score — a 1-yard touchdown pass from Goff to Everett. Zuerlein missed the extra point and it was 9-0.
Goff was intercepted on the Rams’ next possession, but Gabbert gave it right back to Los Angeles when Ogletree picked him off and returned the interception 41 yards for a touchdown, extending the Rams’ lead to 16-0.
“That was a great play by him,” Gabbert said. “Every time when they would get in that front with him ... it was going to be a five-man rush with the gain. That time he engaged and dropped back and it was just a great play by him and he caught the ball.”
Ogletree would leave the game with an elbow injury and he did not return. He said after the game he got hit by a teammate and that his elbow was hyperextended.
“Right now, I’m looking to be ready for next week (against the Philadelphia Eagles),” he said. “... I’ll find out (Monday) what it’s going to be, but it’s going to take a lot of treatment.”
Things were looking so bleak for the Cardinals, it had to bring back memories of their 33-0 loss to the Rams earlier this season in London. The Rams must have been smelling blood, too.
But that’s when Williams broke things open. He had five runs of seven yards or longer as the Cardinals mounted a nine-play, 67-yard touchdown drive, capped by a 1-yard scoring plunge by Penny. That closed the gap to 16-7, but the Cardinals weren’t done.
After forcing the Rams to punt, Williams rattled off a 25-yard gain. Gabbert went deep, connecting with J.J. Nelson on a 26-yard pass completion. Then Gabbert found Fitzgerald for a 15-yard touchdown with 3:25 left in the first half. Phil Dawson’s extra-point attempt was blocked.
Dawson, who was successful on a 54-yard field goal at the start of the fourth quarter that made it a 10-point game, also had a 45-yard attempt blocked later in the game by Michael Brockers.
The Rams ended the first half by driving 78 yards and settling for a 20-yard field goal from Zuerlein to pad their lead to 19-13.
NOTES: Former Cardinals quarterback Jim Hart was inducted into the team’s Ring of Honor during halftime ceremonies. Hart spent 18 seasons with the Cardinals from 1966-1983 when the team played in St. Louis and becomes the 17th person to be awarded the honor. ... The Rams’ receivers entered Sunday’s game ranked tied for third with a drop percentage of just 3.4 on catchable balls. ... With his second-quarter touchdown catch on Sunday, Fitzgerald (214 games) became the fastest player to 1,200 career receptions, surpassing the record once held by Jerry Rice (221).