NFC West: 2011 Week 16 coverage
December, 24, 2011
By Mike Sando | ESPN.com
Thoughts on the Arizona Cardinals' 23-16 road defeat against the Cincinnati Bengals in Week 16:
What it means: The Cardinals were eliminated from playoff contention while losing for only the second time since opening the season with a 1-6 record. They now need a Week 17 victory over Seattle to avoid a second consecutive losing season. Quarterback John Skelton, starting in place of the injured Kevin Kolb, mounted another stirring fourth-quarter comeback, but could not quite pull it off. Finishing the season with a home defeat to the Seahawks would undermine the good feeling surrounding the team before Saturday.
What I liked: The Cardinals rallied for another improbable fourth-quarter comeback, this time after falling behind 23-0. Larry Fitzgerald's 30-yard touchdown reception in the fourth quarter got Arizona on the scoreboard while continuing a run of big plays for him this season. Fitzgerald has improved his yards-per-catch average by more than five from last season. Running back Beanie Wells topped 1,000 yards for the season, a career first and a Cardinals first since Edgerrin James did it during the 2007 season. The offense gained traction in the fourth quarter, continuing a season-long trend. Skelton found Jeff King for a touchdown that pulled the Cardinals within 23-13 midway through the fourth quarter. Calais Campbell, who entered the game with seven sacks, collected another one. He forced and recovered a fumble to get the ball back for Arizona with the team trailing by only seven points and with more than three minutes remaining. The Cardinals drew up the perfect fourth-and-5 play with a chance to tie the game, getting receiver Early Doucet wide open in the end zone for what should have been an easy touchdown.
What I didn't like: Doucet stumbled and could not make the tying touchdown reception after the Cardinals had clawed back into contention late. Was the pass behind him, or did he simply fall down on his own while crossing the goal line without a defender near him? Either way, the results were painful for the Cardinals and fatal to their playoff hopes. It had to be troubling for Arizona to see Skelton toss three interceptions as the Cardinals fell behind 23-0 with the team's playoff viability on the line. Skelton repeatedly missed receivers high, a problem for him throughout the season. The Bengals had been struggling and were not at all impressive during their victory over St. Louis last week. For the Cardinals to fall behind so quickly and by such a large amount was unexpected. A penalty against Cardinals strong safety Adrian Wilson for a hit on Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton nullified an interception by cornerback Patrick Peterson. The hit did not appear particularly flagrant. It was a tough break against the Cardinals at a point in the game when they needed all the help they could get. Peterson later left the game with an apparent injured Achilles' tendon. The Cardinals put the ball on the ground twice in critical situations, once on a two-point conversion try, and again in the red zone -- both in the fourth quarter.
What's next: The Cardinals are home against the Seahawks in Week 17.
December, 24, 2011
By Mike Sando | ESPN.com
Thoughts on the St. Louis Rams following their 27-0 defeat to the Pittsburgh Steelers in Week 16:
What it means: The Rams fell to 2-13, improving their once-long shot chances to secure the No. 1 overall choice in the 2012 draft. They entered Saturday tied with Indianapolis and Minnesota for fewest victories. A Minnesota victory would leave the Rams and Colts tied for the NFL's worst record heading into Week 17. A Colts victory over Jacksonville and a Rams defeat to San Francisco would give St. Louis the No. 1 overall choice for the second time in three seasons. But if Indianapolis loses to the Jaguars, the Colts emerge with the No. 1 overall pick no matter what else happens. That is because their strength of schedule was easier than the Rams' strength of schedule.
What I liked: Steven Jackson topped 100 yards rushing with another inspirational performance. Does another player in the NFL consistently demonstrate more heart and professionalism in the face of team failure? That would seem to be impossible. Jackson makes an otherwise unwatchable team watchable. He carried 24 times for 103 yards against the Steelers. The Rams trailed only 13-0 after three quarters, an indication they're playing hard, but also severely limited. The Rams held the Steelers to one third-down conversion in seven chances.
What I didn't like: Kicker Josh Brown missed from 52 and 33 yards. The 33-yard miss in the fourth quarter was particularly deflating. The Rams have little going for them throughout their roster. It's tough when they cannot count on their veteran kicker, either. The Rams allowed Steelers backup quarterback Charlie Batch to average 9.5 yards per attempt. Jackson's 17-yard reception was the longest by a Rams player.
What's next: The Rams close out their season at home against the San Francisco 49ers in Week 17.