Fumbling Rams see to it that Arizona wins West

Monday, December 8, 2008

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- The final seconds ticked away and the Arizona Cardinals weren't sure how to celebrate. After all, it's been 33 years since the franchise last won a division title.

"My coach was like, 'Act like you've been there before, act like you've been there before,'" defensive tackle Darnell Dockett said. "I said 'Coach, I ain't been there before. I don't know how to act right now.'"

Kurt Warner threw for 279 yards, the defense scored twice and the Cardinals clinched the NFC West championship by beating the woeful St. Louis Rams 34-10 on Sunday.

Long the league's doormat franchise with just one winning season in the last 24 years, the Cardinals earned their first playoff berth since 1998 and first divisional title since they won the NFC East in 1975.

As NFC West champions, the Cardinals will host a playoff game for the first time since, as the Chicago Cardinals, they defeated Philadelphia to win the NFL title in 1947.

The players knew enough about celebrating to dump a bucket of ice water on Ken Whisenhunt, who has the team in the playoffs in his second season as coach.

"It was pretty cold, too," Whisenhunt said. "I was excited to get a bath. That's one of the things I guess as a coach you dream about."

Arizona's defense scored both of the team's second-half touchdowns, including a team record-tying 99-yard interception return by rookie Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie with 3:11 to play.

Arizona (8-5) beat St. Louis (2-11) for the fifth straight time and extended the Rams' losing streak to seven games. After losses to the New York Giants and Philadelphia Eagles, the Cardinals improved to 5-0 against NFC West foes.

Michael Bidwill, the team's president and son of longtime owner Bill Bidwill, raised both fists in triumph as he trotted off the field. In the locker room, players donned T-shirts and hats with "NFC West Champions" emblazened on them.

Bidwill said his father "is very, very happy. This is the first time he's gotten a hat, you know. He likes his hat a lot."

Warner completed 24 of 33 passes against a Rams team he once led to a Super Bowl title. In the process, he reached 347 completions for the season, breaking the Cardinals' record of 345 set by Neil Lomax in 1984.

Linebacker Gerald Hayes forced two fumbles by Steven Jackson and Dockett returned the second 11 yards for his first career touchdown to give Arizona a 27-7 lead in the third quarter.

Jackson gained 64 yards on 19 carries.

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