Rams yield game-ending, 99-yard punt return in OT loss to Arizona
Monday, November 7, 2011
St. Louis fell to 1-7 as Arizona broke a six-game losing streak
GLENDALE, Ariz. -- The St. Louis Rams seemed to have victory sewn up. All they needed was a fourth field goal of the day from Josh Brown as time expired.
The 42-yarder was well within the reliable kicker's range. But Arizona's 6-foot-8 Calais Campbell soared to block the kick and send the game to overtime. Then rookie Patrick Peterson put a stunning end to the game with a 99-yard punt return and the Cardinals won 19-13, snapping a six-game skid.
"It is probably the toughest loss I have had since I have been in the league," said Rams quarterback Sam Bradford, back after missing two games with a high left ankle sprain. "I felt that for the most part we controlled this game. At the end with the opportunities we had in their territory and to possibly go ahead and not convert, it is tough."
The Rams (1-7) were coming off their first win of the season, a 31-21 upset of New Orleans. They dominated the first half statistically Sunday, yet led just 9-6. Still, after two Arizona safeties on consecutive offensive plays, St. Louis led 13-7. Even after the Cardinals rallied, the Rams seemed to be in position to still pull it out.
"You are going to have games like this where you feel like you did everything right to win the game but couldn't finish out," Rams linebacker Brady Poppinga said. "Give Arizona credit. They held in there until the final play and they made the play. They made one more play than us."
That play was a stunner, one that went totally against what a punt returner is supposed to do. Nobody fields a punt at his 1-yard line -- except the confident, talented rookie from LSU.
"On conventional wisdom, I am sure that his coaches, when he caught it, were saying 'You're supposed to let it go,'" St. Louis coach Steve Spagnuolo said. "So it's where we wanted to kick it. It was a gutsy play by a really good player. I don't know what else to say. I don't think we did anything wrong."
Peterson became the first player in NFL history to have three punt returns for scores in his first eight games, and it was the second overtime punt returned for a touchdown in NFL history. The other was 86 yards by Tamarick Vanover of Kansas City to beat San Diego on Oct. 9, 1995.
"He's a special young man," Arizona coach Ken Whisenhunt said. "I'm glad that we have him on our football team -- my new son."
John Skelton, starting in place of injured Arizona quarterback Kevin Kolb, gave up safeties on consecutive plays during the third quarter, then threw a 13-yard touchdown pass to Larry Fitzgerald with 4 minutes, 51 seconds remaining to tie the game 13-13.
Brown had field goals of 48, 37 and 41 yards.
Steven Jackson rushed for 130 yards on 29 carries.
Bradford was 23 of 36 for 255 yards. Skelton was 20 of 35 for 222 yards for the Cardinals.
Donnie Jones twice pinned the Cardinals inside their 10-yard line during the third quarter to set up the safeties. The first punt was downed at the 2. Arizona moved it to the 5, then James Hall burst through for a sack in the end zone that boosted St. Louis' lead to 11-6. Arizona got the ball at its 9 the next time, and Skelton was called for intentional grounding on a rollout pass, giving the Rams a 13-6 lead.
It was the first time a player yielded two safeties in a quarter since Aaron Rodgers did it against Minnesota on Nov. 9, 2008. The last player to have safeties on consecutive plays was Kordell Stewart of Pittsburgh against Jacksonville on Oct. 3, 1999.
The safeties marked the first time in NFL history a team had scored four points in a quarter.
Skelton, a 2010 fifth-round draft pick out of Fordham, brought the Cardinals back with a no-huddle offense. He completed 5 of 7 passes for 47 yards and scrambled twice for 28 yards on a nine-play, 84-yard drive for the game's only touchdown, a leaping grab by Fitzgerald in the back of the end zone.
The Rams took the subsequent kickoff and drove to the Arizona 32, where they had third and 1, but Jackson twice was stopped for no gain. St. Louis chose to go for it on fourth down rather than let Brown try a 50-yarder.
St. Louis got another chance.
Bradford's 23-yard pass to Austin Pettis moved the ball to the 42, then a 5-yarder to Pettis moved it to the 37.
The pass interference penalty on Peterson -- against Brandon Lloyd, who had five catches for 80 yards -- moved the ball well within Brown's range.
The Cardinals had lost four games by four points or fewer and seemed headed for a fifth, until Campbell knocked the kick away.
"It's one of those ones that stings extremely deep to the soul of a competitor," Poppinga said. "We had every opportunity to win and just couldn't as a team finish it out."
* St. Louis tight end Lance Kendricks and wide receiver Greg Salas were taken off on carts during the game.
Salas probably is out for the season with a broken leg. The Rams lost Kendricks with a sprained foot, Josh Hull with a hamstring injury and Brandon Gibson with a hip injury.