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(Sunday, September 12th)
Final Score: Arizona 17, St. Louis 13
St. Louis, MO (Sports Network) - Derek Anderson upstaged Sam Bradford's NFL debut as he threw the game-winning touchdown in the fourth quarter to give Arizona a 17-13 win over St. Louis at Edward Jones Dome.
Anderson, who was named the starter after the retirement of Kurt Warner and the release of former first-round pick Matt Leinart, went 22-for-41 with 297 yards and a touchdown to Larry Fitzgerald for the Cardinals (1-0), who have won consecutive NFC West titles.
Tim Hightower had 13 carries for 54 yards and a score and added four receptions for 40 yards while Steve Breaston had seven catches for 132 yards for Arizona, which beat Green Bay in the playoff opener last season but then fell to New Orleans in the next round.
"I think you saw signs of a team that it was their first time playing together today," said Arizona head coach Ken Whisenhunt. "But the thing that I'm most pleased about is the way that we fought, never quit, never gave up."
Bradford, the No. 1 overall pick in this year's draft out of Oklahoma, went 32-for-55 with 253 yards and a score, but threw three interceptions, including one in the final two minutes with St. Louis deep in Arizona territory.
Steven Jackson had 22 carries for 81 yards while Mark Clayton had 10 catches for 119 yards for the Rams (0-1), who finished last season with a mark of 1-15 and were 6-42 over the past three seasons.
The Cardinals started the game-winning drive at their own 14 with 10:09 to play. Breaston started it with an 11-yard catch and Max Komar followed with a 20-yard haul. A 16-yard catch-and-run by Hightower was followed by a 27-yard reception by Breaston to get the ball to the St. Louis 11.
Following an offensive holding call and an incompletion, Anderson stepped back and found Fitzgerald wide open in the right corner of the end zone for a 17-13 lead with 6:13 to play.
Bradford drove his team into Arizona ground efficiently and got the Rams to the 21. However, facing 4th-and-10, Bradford was picked off by Kerry Rhodes, who took the ball 65 yards the other way to the St. Louis 29 with 1:28 to play.
On the next play, though, Hightower carried up the middle and fumbled the ball, which St. Louis recovered and a replay upheld the call to give the Rams one last chance with 1:21 left.
Bradford got the ball past midfield with 25 seconds showing on the clock and two timeouts left, but the next two passes fell incomplete.
A nine-yard catch by Danny Amendola followed by a three-yard run by Jackson gave the team a first down, but the Rams had to burn their final two timeouts and Bradford's deep throw on the final play of the game was picked off in the end zone.
Arizona drove into St. Louis territory on its first possession, but Hightower fumbled the ball and Bradley Fletcher returned the ball 43 yards to the Arizona 32.
However, St. Louis came away empty as Josh Brown's 34-yard field goal attempt was blocked.
After the Cardinals were held to a three-and-out, Bradford was picked off by Adrian Wilson to give Arizona the ball back in St. Louis territory, but were held without a yard and had to punt.
The Cardinals finally got on the board with a 10-play drive that spanned the first and second quarters as Jay Feely's 22-yard boot between the uprights gave the team a 3-0 lead with 13:54 left in the half.
After an exchange of touches, the Rams were able to get on the board as Bradford guided his team on the first scoring march of his career and the eight-play, 44-yard drive was capped on a 46-yard field goal from Brown to tie the game with 5:28 to play in the first half.
Arizona, though, struck back quick to take the lead. After the kickoff, LaRod Stephens-Howling had consecutive carries for 21 and 15 yards and Hightower followed that with runs of 19 and 20 yards to set up a 1st-and-goal at the one, with Hightower taking it in on the next play for a 10-3 lead with just under three minutes left in the second.
The teams then exchanged punts, but Bradford showed the poise of a veteran on St. Louis' last drive as he guided the team to a score to tie the game at the break.
Facing a 2nd-and-10 near midfield, Bradford heaved the ball down the right sideline and Clayton made a diving catch for a 39-yard gain to set up a 1st- and-goal at the nine-yard line. On the final play of the half, Bradford rolled out to his right and found Laurent Robinson in the end zone from a yard out for his first career TD pass.
"I felt like I was very composed tonight," Bradford said. "I felt like I really didn't get rattled, especially after the first interception, felt like we were still doing some good things on offense. Came back out, ended up scoring a touchdown to close the first half, tie the ballgame up. I thought that was big for our team."
On its second touch of the second half, St. Louis went ahead. Starting with the ball at the Arizona 38, Jackson ran around right end for 11 yards. A roughing the passer call got the ball to the 11, but the Rams were only able to move four more yards and a 25-yard field goal from Brown made it a 13-10 game with 8 1/2 minutes left in the third.
The Cardinals were driving on their next touch and had the ball near midfield, but Anderson was stripped with Clifton Ryan picking it up and appeared to be headed for the end zone. Breaston, though, knocked the ball out of Ryan's hands near the goal line and Arizona recovered in the end zone for a touchback. However, the Cardinals later had to punt the ball away.
Arizona quickly got the ball back and drove into scoring position thanks to a 35-yard reception from Breaston. However, Komar fumbled a catch over the middle and St. Louis recovered to get the ball back early in the fourth.
Arizona plays at Atlanta next Sunday...The Rams play in Oakland next Sunday...The Rams have dropped 14 straight games at home and have not won there since October 19, 2008 against Dallas...Arizona now leads the series with the Rams, 31-30-2 thanks to eight straight wins...Fitzgerald finished with three catches for 43 yards...Arizona outgained St. Louis, 378-325, but lost the time of possession battle as the Rams controlled the ball for nearly 33 minutes.
09/12 22:30:18 ET