Jim Nantz earned his per diem Thursday tonight when he diagnosed, during the final moments of the drudgery that was Cardinals-Rams, what a throwback this game was.
"You know, the way the game is played these days, it's such a rarity to see something like this game, with no touchdowns, six field goals, 14 punts — and a whole lot of suspense here with six minutes to go ..."
You have to assume that by "these days," Nantz means, since they started teaching quarterbacks to throw a spiral. Generously the NFL Network crew pitched this as a chance for one of the two fill-in starting quarterbacks to start playing like a starter. Who will emerge on the bright lights of a Thursday in Missouri? The Cardinals' Drew Stanton threw 20 times for 109 yards before leaving with a knee injury in the third quarter and handing the keys to Ryan Lindley, who closed out the improbable win by throwing 10 times for 30 yards. For St. Louis, Shaun Hill was 20-of-39 for 229 yards as injured Sam Bradford, the storm-flooded basement of the Rams franchise, watched on. All told, these were mid-December passing numbers if a nor'easter is body-slamming the Meadowlands. The St. Louis area may go wanting for other amenities — unobstructed ocean views, decent ski hills, basic equal treatment of its citizens — but it does have a sturdy enough roof under which uniformed men may play organized football, if anyone were to want to try sometime.
Instead, this game ended with a score of Arizona 12, St. Louis 6, with no touchdowns for either team, though they did combine for several first downs and quite a few tackles. (Nantz was correct on the retro angle: Elias says the last time the Cardinals won on the road without scoring a touchdown was 1935.) Maybe the most entertaining moment came when Cardinals coach Bruce Arians tossed an ill-advised challenge flag, realized his mistake, and was seen to mouth pickituppickituppickitup until his center, Lyle Sendlein, got the message and tried to nonchalantly stow the offending laundry. The refs may have appreciated the housekeeping but charged Arians a timeout anyway. (Video h/t Zack.)
Late in this compost pile, incredibly, St. Louis got the ball at their own 20 with a chance to drive for a winning touchdown. The drive began with Rams center Scott Wells snapping the ball into the undermeat of his own ass — a fumble, recovered for a loss of a couple of yards. Then something bizarre: a long completion, strong clock management and a chance for an eye-popping finish. Hill regressed to the mean by throwing a pass squarely to the open hands of his receiver Stedman Bailey, with plenty of open space. Bailey, understandably stunned, dropped the ball. "He could have caught that cleanly and picked up many yards," Phil Simms said to all the ESL students tuning in. One play later blitzing cornerback Jerraud Powers swatted down Hill's attempted pass behind the line of scrimmage on 4th-and-3, and the Cardinals wrung out the last few drops from this chore of a game. I guess the Rams did get the ball back and set up a 70-yard Hail Mary with one second remaining. But of course there was a false start. And then of course Hill chucked up a sick-duck pick to midfield.
The Cardinals escaped with their wait-what-are-you-kidding-me 11th win of the season, tops in the NFC, virtually guaranteeing a playoff berth. And yet they're going to trampled in the playoffs. They move the ball as if they're getting paid by the hour, not the yard. Their defense is no wilting violet, and they do have a couple of backs who can flat-out scamper in Stepfan Taylor and Kerwynn Williams. Plus, added motivation: the big game is in the desert this year. But they need a quarterback in the worst kind of way. If this is really the best team standing between Green Bay and Super Bowl
Brazilian teen pop sensation XLIX it's going to be a very dairy February.
Photo credit of Drew Stanton: AP