First Posted: 9/9/2013
(AP) It had been seven years since the St. Louis Rams won their opener, with Jeff Fisher dropping his debut to the Lions last year on the heels of three failures from Steve Spagnuolo and two more from Scott Linehan.
Getting the best of the Arizona Cardinals was cause for celebration, no matter how the Rams got there.
After Greg Zuerlein kicked the go-ahead 48-yard field goal with 40 seconds to go, capping a fourth-quarter comeback from an 11-point deficit in a 27-24 victory Sunday, Fisher did not hesitate when asked what he remembered best.
"Watching the game clock tick to zero, that's my most favorite part," Fisher said. "You know, we're really excited. You take them when you get them like that."
Linehan dropped his first eight games in 2007 and was fired after an 0-4 start in '08. Spagnuolo's teams opened 0-7, 0-2 and 0-6, but the Rams won in Week 2 last season under Fisher.
Next week at Atlanta, they'll be trying for their first 2-0 start since 2001, their last Super Bowl season.
"We had some good plays and some bad plays," offensive tackle Jake Long said. "No one panicked. We just kept pushing."
Bruce Arians was the NFL coach of the year last season, going 9-3 with the Colts as the interim coach. His true head coaching debut with the team's he's overhauled after a 5-11 season was going well until the final 15 minutes.
"I wanted to win," Arians said. "We didn't come to play close and build for next year. We felt like we gave this game away."
Five reasons why the Rams are feeling pretty good about themselves, warts and all, and why the Cardinals know they can do better:
1. TIGHT END UNLEASHED: Fisher drafted Jared Cook in the third round in 2009 when he was the Titans' coach, and made him a priority pickup in free agency. Cook opened with a gaffe when he got stripped by Tyrann Mathieu a few long strides from the end zone and a 55-yard breakaway that would have been the game's first score.
He didn't mope about it, catching seven passes for 141 yards and two touchdowns the first multi-touchdown game of his career. Cook had a key 25-yard reception that set up Zuerlein's winning field goal.
Mathieu was a difference-maker at LSU, where he forced 11 fumbles and recovered eight fumbles, two for touchdowns, in two seasons. But the third-round draft pick cost the Cardinals three points later in the half when he was whistled for a 38-yard interference penalty on rookie Tavon Austin, resulting in one of Zuerlein's four field goals.
2. UNDER PRESSURE: Keeping Carson Palmer healthy is key to Arizona's chances. It wasn't a good sign when Arians was asked whether he'd consider a replacement tackle Levi Brown, victimized by all three of Robert Quinn's sacks that ended with forced fumbles.
The Cardinals surrendered an NFL-worst 58 sacks last year and gave up four in the opener. Plans for this year took a hit when first-round draft pick Jonathan Cooper, the starting left guard, broke his left leg in the third preseason game. Brown did not play last year and has had trouble with speed rushers.
"He is our guy," Arians said of Brown. "There is no position change. Someone would have already beaten him out."
3. MR. CLEAN: Sam Bradford was not sacked the last two games of 2012 and the Cardinals couldn't get past the protection package boosted by Long, the Rams' other big free-agent pickup. Rodger Saffold missed a couple series while having a knee injury checked.
Bradford was sacked 36 times in 2011 when he missed four games with an ankle injury, and 35 times last year.
4. HE'S OPEN: Acquiring Palmer helped put Larry Fitzgerald back in the picture. Fitzgerald caught two touchdown passes half of last year's season total while working with an assortment of quarterbacks.
Fitzgerald caught eight passes for 80 yards and his 24-yarder late in the third quarter put the Cardinals ahead 24-13. But he had no receptions in the fourth quarter as Arizona foundered with 67 yards and four first downs.
5. RUNNING SOME: The Rams haven't tried to replace Steven Jackson, a bruiser who's going for his ninth consecutive 1,000-yard season in Atlanta, counting on last year's backup with unproven players in reserve.
They de-emphasized the run game in the opener, leaning on the next-to-last pick of last year's draft and also keeping the chains moving with short passes.
Daryl Richardson had 63 yards on 20 carries, accounting for all but 4 of the yards and four of the carries. Rookie backup Zac Stacy had one carry for 4 yards and Isaiah Pead, a second-rounder last year, returns next week after serving a one-game suspension.
AP NFL website: www.pro32.ap.orgAssociated Press