By Jim Thomas
ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH
Monday, Nov. 03 2008
On its opening possession, Arizona had four cracks at the end zone from the
2-yard line in, but was stopped cold by the St. Louis defense.

"I thought we were onto something," defensive end Leonard Little said.

Sure looked that way later in the first quarter, when quarterback Marc Bulger
connected on an 80-yard lightning bolt to young wide receiver Derek Stanley. It
was one of the more amazing plays seen recently in the Edward Jones Dome.

Running full speed, Stanley cradled the deep pass with one hand on the back of
defender Eric Green, gathered the ball in, then managed to tightrope the
sideline for a touchdown. It was Stanley's first NFL catch, and the longest
pass completion of Bulger's NFL career.

But just when it looked like the Rams were poised to play themselves back into
the NFC West race, the bottom fell out in dramatic fashion. A team that hadn't
yielded more than 23 points in any of Jim Haslett's first three games as head
coach was scorched for 24 in the second quarter Sunday by the Cardinals.

Poof! went any realistic division title hopes. And down went the Rams, 34-13,
to a hungry and emerging Big Red team led by St. Louis favorite Kurt Warner at
quarterback.

"It boils down to a number of different things, but we weren't very good in the
one-on-one area," Haslett said. "We know this (Arizona) team is a good
offensive football team, and they're going to score some points. We can't give
them extra points through turnovers, and that was the big thing. That just
killed us."

It all began unraveling early in the second quarter, when a Bulger pass
intended for rookie Donnie Avery over the middle was intercepted by Arizona
safety Antrel Rolle and returned 40 yards for a touchdown. That tied the score
7-7 with 12 minutes 10 seconds remaining in the half.

"I wish I had that back. That put our team in a bad situation," Bulger said. "I
pumped the tight end, assuming that the safety would move."

But Rolle didn't budge. He didn't go for the pump fake, stayed with Avery and
made an aggressive play on the ball.

On the Rams' next possession came another of those one-on-one plays that the
Rams couldn't handle. Blitzing Big Red safety Adrian Wilson beat an attempted
block by fullback Dan Kreider, sacked Bulger and forced a fumble that was
recovered by teammate Bertrand Berry at the St. Louis 23.

The Rams' defense held, but St. Louisan Neil Rackers booted a 36-yard field
goal to give Arizona its first lead of the game at 10-7. The Cardinals were
just getting warmed up. Rookie running back Tim Hightower capped a 92-yard
drive with a 30-yard TD run around left end on Arizona's next possession.
Cornerback Fakhir Brown was in position to make the tackle near the line of
scrimmage but whiffed.

The back-breaker came in the final minute of the half, when Warner threw deep
down the right sideline for Jerheme Urban. Rams cornerback Jonathan Wade had
tight coverage, turned for the ball perfectly ... and watched what looked like
a sure interception plop out of his hands and into Urban's.

Urban secured the ball, turned and ran for a 56-yard TD. Instead of getting an
interception and return that might have put the Rams in field goal range to cut
Arizona's lead to 17-10 at the half, the Rams found themselves down 24-7.

"It just slipped through my hands," Wade said. "He kept with it. It was a great
play by him, as well as a great play by me."

Well, almost a great play by Wade, who was thinking interception all the way as
the ball headed into his hands.

"It's calling my name," Wade said, referring to the ball. "It's calling my
family's name. And you're sitting there just like 'ahhhh.' And all of a sudden,
something happens. I should have concentrated and made the play."

Since taking over for the fired Scott Linehan, Haslett has stressed the
importance of showing resiliency and responding well to adversity. Just the
opposite happened on Sunday, however. The Rams collapsed in a manner
reminiscent of the Linehan tenure.

"I didn't think we handled it very well," Haslett said. "That disappointed me."

And it all got back to those one-on-one matchups that Haslett talked about.

"Jon Wade has a chance to get an interception; they score a touchdown," Haslett
said. "They get another turnover because we miss a block. You've got a fullback
(Kreider) on a safety; you've got to make the block.

"It's a bunch of matchups, one-on-one. Football, that's what it is. And we
didn't win any one-on-ones. We just didn't do it."

As a result, the division-leading Cardinals are 5-3 at the midpoint of the 2008
season, and sitting pretty in the West. They have won four straight over the
Rams in St. Louis. The Rams, meanwhile, are 2-6 and on the outside looking in.

Again.