Updated Sep 9, 2013 - 3:13 am
Bird Bits: Cardinals blow double-digit lead, fall in 2013 opener
The Arizona Cardinals opened the 2013 season with three quarters of good football, but in the end the result was the same: a 27-24 loss to the St. Louis Rams.
Behind a variety of big plays -- Carson Palmer's two touchdown passes, Tyrann Mathieu's touchdown-saving forced fumble and Dan Williams' interception returned for a touchdown -- the Cardinals were staked to a 24-13 lead with 1:47 remaining in the third quarter.
From there, the wheels simply fell off.
Sam Bradford orchestrated an eight-play, 80-yard drive capped off by a one-yard touchdown throw to tight end Jared Cook and a two-point conversion run to cut the deficit to three with a little over 13 minutes remaining.
On the ensuing kickoff, Arizona returner Javier Arenas attempted to return the ball deep out of his own end zone. Instead, Arenas fumbled the football. Rookie Tony Jefferson recovered it for the Cardinals, however Palmer and Co. were forced to start the next possession at their own 12-yard line.
The Cardinals gained one first down on a Rashard Mendenhall nine-yard run, but the drive took a turn for the worst after Robert Quinn's game-changing strip sack of Palmer. Quinn's forced fumble, his second of the day, was recovered by teammate Chris Long at the Arizona 22-yard line.
Following the turnover, St. Louis would be held to three points, but the momentum had completely changed hands.
Two straight ineffective offensive drives by the Cardinals setup a game-winning opportunity for the Rams with under two minutes to play.
Starting from their own 20, Bradford (three passes for 37 yards) and running back Daryl Richardson calmly led St. Louis down the field as the seconds ticked off the game clock. Aided by a five-yard encroachment penalty by Yeremiah Bell, Jeff Fisher's squad advanced all the way down to the Arizona 30-yard line. From there, Greg Zuerlein nailed the game-winning 48-yard field goal with 40 seconds remaining.
For Arizona, the loss was its first in Week 1 since Sept. 2009 and third straight against St. Louis.
Outside of an early third quarter interception, Carson Palmer played the part of an NFL starting quarterback -- something that's been lacking in the Valley since 2009.
In his Cardinals debut, Palmer was 26-of-40 for 327 yards. He also threw two touchdown passes to Larry Fitzgerald.
Fitzgerald wasn't the only receiver to benefit from Palmer's presence. Andre Roberts caught eight passes for a team-high 97 yards, several of which came on third down.
Although he didn't have a flashy debut, running back Rashard Mendenhall gave the Cardinals a decent amount of balance in the run game. Mendenhall finished with 60 yards on 16 carries.
While the defense was not without it's faults Sunday, following the Cardinals' two turnovers, Todd Bowles' unit allowed a combined six points.
Levi Brown's return to regular season action was disastrous to say the least. The Cardinals left tackle, who was sidelined all of last season, allowed two sacks to Robert Quinn in the first half, but that wasn't even his biggest offense of the afternoon.
That came with Arizona backed up in its own end holding a slim 24-21 lead in the fourth quarter.
Brown's last error of the contest proved costly, as Quinn beat the 29-year-old off the edge and grabbed the right arm of Palmer to force the ball loose on a third down throw.
The Rams, as noted above, recovered the football and momentum firmly stayed on the home side for the rest of the contest.
But, Brown wasn't the only one who had a Week 1 to forget.
Javier Arenas, who was acquired from the Kansas City Chiefs during the offseason, twice took the ball out of his own end zone when the safer move would have been to take a touchback. On both occasions, the risk was not rewarded, and Arizona's offense was faced with poor field position.
Although it wasn't a chip shot, Jay Feely's miss from 50 yards out -- albeit in a dome -- to end the first half also loomed large considering the final score.
HE SAID IT
"It was just blown opportunities there in the fourth quarter. We've got to convert those third down opportunities to win the ballgame and not let their offense back out on the field. We felt like we put ourselves in a position to win the game, and offensively we've got to go win that ballgame." - Cardinals coach Bruce Arians
-Arizona didn't record a single sack on the afternoon.
-Dan Williams' third quarter touchdown was the first of his NFL career. During his time at Tennessee, Williams never scored a touchdown.
-Williams' interception return for a touchdown was the first by a Cardinals defensive lineman since Fred Wakefield back in Nov. 2001.
-Fitzgerald's multi-touchdown game was his first since Nov. 13, 2011 against the Philadelphia Eagles.
-In his first career game, Tyrann Mathieu had seven solo tackles and a forced fumble.
The Cardinals (0-1) will return to University of Phoenix Stadium for their regular season home opener next Sunday, Sept. 15, against the Detroit Lions (1-0). Arizona beat Detroit 38-10 in Week 15 of last season. Kickoff is scheduled for 1:10 p.m. MST and can be heard on 92.3 KTAR.
Dave Dulberg, Web Content Editor - ArizonaSports.com
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