NFC West: Cardinals-Rams
Bulger suffered a strain to what coach Steve Spagnuolo called his "groin-hamstring" area. Bulger also sustained a blow to the head. He will undergo tests for potential concussion Tuesday. Bulger also awoke Monday with swelling in his knee. He will under go an MRI exam on the knee this afternoon.
Also on the injury front, fullback Mike Karney is undergoing an MRI for a potential neck injury. Defensive end Leonard Little is undergoing an X-ray on his lower back. Right tackle Jason Smith is undergoing tests after suffering a potential concussion. Running back Steven Jackson has soreness in his lower back (a "muscle strain" was what Spagnuolo called it).
Bulger's injuries were most serious. Spagnuolo did not sound concerned about Jackson's ability to play in Week 12.
The upside: Even the worst defeats tend to feature a bright spot or two.
- Steven Jackson became the first player in Rams history to record five consecutive 1,000-yard seasons. He carried 24 times for 116 yards and a touchdown.
- Second-year defensive end Chris Long recorded a sack for the third game in a row. He has played better lately, a good sign for the Rams given how much they invested in him.
- Rookie Brandon Gibson caught five more passes, giving him 12 receptions in the last two games.
- The Rams finished with eight quarterback hits, including one that knocked Kurt Warner from the game. That was a tribute to coach Steve Spagnuolo's blitz schemes. The Rams impressed the Cardinals as a well-coordinated team, and Arizona's Ken Whisenhunt said so afterward.
- The Rams held the Cardinals scoreless in the second half.
Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch says the Rams might have allowed 40 points instead of 21 if the Cardinals' Kurt Warner hadn't left the game late in the first half. Thomas: "The St. Louis defense gave up an astounding 327 yards in the first half. When Warner wasn't working his magic to Arizona receivers, the Cardinals were gouging the Rams on the ground."
Also from Thomas: Steven Jackson set a Rams franchise record with his fifth consecutive 1,000-yard rushing season. Thomas: "After gaining 116 yards on 24 carries, including a fourth-quarter TD on Sunday, Jackson has 1,031 yards rushing in 10 games. He's on pace for 1,650 rushing yards, which would be the fourth-best single-season total in franchise history, and the best for someone not named Eric Dickerson."
ST. LOUIS -- The knock on Arizona Cardinals quarterback Kurt Warner -- that he can be injury prone -- became outdated years ago.
Warner hasn't missed a game to injury since 2005, after all.
But when the three-time Super Bowl starter sat out the second half as a precaution Sunday after feeling "fuzzy" from a big hit, the other NFC West teams must have liked what they saw.
This division is the Cardinals' to lose until the minute Warner walks away, probably after next season.
Backup Matt Leinart struggled to hold off the St. Louis Rams 21-13 after Warner handed him a 21-3 lead and an offense that had amassed 316 yards and 17 first downs in less than two quarters.
Leinart completed 10 of 14 passes for 74 yards, including a clutch 20-yarder to Early Doucet as Arizona finally handed the Rams their ninth defeat in 10 games. But the Cardinals' offense punted four times and lost a fumble while generating seven first downs and zero points with Leinart at the controls.
Holding Leinart to Warner's standard isn't realistic or fair, but an occasional touchdown might be nice. Leinart has thrown one touchdown pass in his last 127 attempts dating to a 23-20 victory over Seattle early in the 2007 season.
This was the third time Arizona handed over the offense to Leinart this season. The Jaguars, Bears and Rams have outscored Arizona by a 24-0 count with Leinart in the game.
"Am I happy? I'm happy we won," Leinart said. "Obviously, I'm going to get better and keep working and if my opportunity comes, keep making the most of it."
While the Rams pitched a second-half shutout, no one in the Edward Jones Dome played tougher defense than Cardinals coach Ken Whisenhunt. He offered unwavering support for Leinart, but it was a tough sell.
"I think some of it has just been bad luck," Whisenhunt said. "If you go back to Jacksonville, he threw a pass on a naked [bootleg] that was a first down and the guy drops it. He throws a pass today on a naked after just making on that same drive a big third-down conversion to Larry ... and it's fumbled. I mean, that's not Matt's fault."
Leinart overthrew Fitzgerald twice on the Cardinals' first drive of the third quarter. He seemed to hold the ball too long while taking a 9-yard sack on a third-and-3 play with 6:06 remaining in the game. A fumble in that situation could have cost Arizona its second consecutive 7-3 start.
"As with anything, you get into a groove as you are doing it and have some continuity, you get more comfortable," Whisenhunt said. "The play he made to Early, I don't see how you can make a better play than that as a quarterback."
Warner completed 15 of 19 passes for 203 yards, two touchdowns and a 146.3 rating. He had just completed a 14-yard pass to Fitzgerald in the second quarter when Rams safety Oshiomogho Atogwe hit him from behind. Warner appeared shaken, but he stayed in the game for five more plays, leaving only after Beanie Wells' 1-yard touchdown run gave Arizona a 21-3 lead with 2:23 left in the first half.
"It was one of those situations where I didn't feel perfect, so I just wanted to be cautious with it," Warner said. "I actually feel pretty good right now. Just a very, very slight headache. I remember everything that happened. I didn't get knocked out."
Warner said he hasn't suffered a concussion since probably 2003, when he was still with the Rams. The serious injury Anquan Boldin suffered against the Jets last season rattled Warner. Another teammate, Sean Morey, has battled concussions this season. Warner is 38 years old. He has seven children. He made the right decision.
"I think you get farther in your career and you see life beyond football and you realize that this game is just a game," Warner said. "There are other things that you want to do and you want to be smart, especially when it comes to your health. I think that is what I have learned."
Warner overshadowed his former team when he was in the game and through the manner he left it. His St. Louis successor, Marc Bulger, wasn't much of a factor in the outcome -- not a good sign for a player with an $8.5 million salary next season.
But as Leinart showed the Rams on Sunday, drafting a quarterback in the first round assures nothing.
"Not taking anything away from Matt Leinart, because he is capable of getting the job done and they got a ton of weapons still, but I think it just shows you how good Kurt is, that when he comes out, things kind of shut down a little bit more for them," Rams defensive end Chris Long said. "Kurt just makes plays."
Referee Bill Leavy and crew penalized Rams tackle Adam Goldberg for unnecessary roughness after Marc Bulger threw incomplete on first-and-10 from the Arizona 13 with about 4 minutes remaining. The call mystified Goldberg, who said he was merely blocking his man as usual.
"He knocked the defender down well after the pass was released and in my judgment, unnecessarily hit a player after the ball had been gone," referee Bill Leavy told pool reporter Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.
Goldberg suggested he couldn't know whether the ball had been thrown because his back was to the quarterback. In his mind, letting up might have put Bulger in danger of a sack. The penalty moved back the Rams 15 yards to the 28.
The drive ended with Bulger throwing incomplete to Donnie Avery on fourth-and-4 from the Arizona 7. Replays appeared to show contact between Avery and cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie.
"My field judge said that the contact was incidental," Leavy told Thomas. "No restrictive contact (was made) and not enough to call a foul."
Warner said he could have stayed in the game, but he wanted to play it safe because he values life beyond football. He remained in the game for five plays after taking the hit from Rams safety Oshiomogho Atogwe.
I'll have more from Warner in the column I'm about to write following the Cardinals' 21-13 victory at the Edward Jones Dome.
Warner absorbed what the team called a "blow to the head" late in the second quarter. He stayed in the game for five additional plays as the Cardinals finished a touchdown drive. He did not return after that drive.
Backup Matt Leinart had trouble getting much going in the second half even though he inherited an offense that was running the ball effectively.
The Rams did a poor job capitalizing until it was almost too late. And when they did have a chance to force a potential tie, receiver Brandon Gibson dropped a pass in the end zone, bailing out Leinart and the Cardinals. Update: Upon further review, the pass might have been tipped.
This game illustrated Warner's value and how much ground the Rams still must make up from a talent standpoint.
Warner watched the second half from the sideline and remained in uniform. If he is not injured seriously, the Cardinals all but wrapped up the NFC West title by opening a three-game lead over the 49ers in the division. Looking down on the field as I write, Warner is holding hands with the Rams' Jonathan Wade and Keith Null as part of the postgame prayer circle.
Arizona is 7-3 for the second season in a row. The Cardinals are 5-0 on the road. They should be able to get to nine or 10 victories, which should be enough to defend their division title.
The Rams are now rallying.
What a horrible defeat this would be for Arizona.
Kurt Warner does not appear to be seriously injured. He is watching the second half from the sideline.
Rams safety Oshiomogho Atogwe hit Warner from behind during the drive. Warner stayed in the game for five more plays even though he appeared shaky immediately after taking the hit.
The Cardinals have listed Warner's return as questionable.
The Rams had given other teams problems lately, forcing the Saints to play a complete game against them.
The Cardinals have shown up on defense, stuffing Steven Jackson on two consecutive runs to turn over the ball on downs. Coach Ken Whisenhunt and the offensive staff have been creative, unveiling at least one new personnel-formation combination.
The running game continues to be there for the Cardinals. That will be key for their offense as they try to open up more big plays down the field. Arizona, up 21-3, is picking up where it left off against the Seahawks last week.
Another sign the Arizona offense is rolling: Kurt Warner completed a 27-yard pass to ... tight end Ben Patrick.
Looking like a long day for the Rams.
That makes their fourth wideout more valuable than most. Early Doucet has replaced Jerheme Urban in that role recently. Urban did not play in Week 10. The Cardinals named him inactive Sunday.
The decision makes some sense. While Urban was effective, the team needs to find out whether Doucet, a 2008 third-round choice, can help the offense. Anquan Boldin's future with the team is uncertain beyond this season. Developing Doucet could help this season even if Boldin remains with the team. The team also knows Urban will be ready if called upon.
Also inactive for Arizona: safety Rashad Johnson, linebacker Chike Okeafor, tackle Herman Johnson, guard Brandon Keith, tight end Stephen Spach and tight end Dominique Byrd. Brian St. Pierre is the third quarterback.
The Rams' inactive list features cornerback Danny Gorrer, linebacker Dominic Douglas, guard Roger Allen III, tackle Phil Trautwein, guard Richie Incognito, receiver Jordan Kent and defensive end C.J. Ah You, who appears headed for injured reserve. Keith Null is the third quarterback.
As noted in this video shot Friday, I'm headed to St. Louis for the Cardinals-Rams game Sunday.
Last season, your input periodically influenced which games I attended. The exercise became a bit futile as the Cardinals ran away with the division title and other teams played meaningless games.
The Rams' and Seahawks' struggles this season have made some of their games less attractive. The 49ers' more recent struggles discounted some of their games to a degree.
In a perfect NFC West world, divisional balance would make each team's games compelling most of the weeks.
The Cardinals-Rams game offers an opportunity to see the division leader against an improving Rams team still in its formative state. It's also a chance to see the Rams' Steven Jackson, arguably the most inspiring runner in the NFL this season.
Enjoy your Week 11. I'm traveling most of Saturday and will check back here in the evening. Those looking for instant fame can leave Week 11 predictions right here.
Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando
Lutui's facemask penalty resulted in a 15-yard penalty. The league said he grabbed facemask while attempting to make a block. Rodgers-Cromartie slammed Rams receiver Torry Holt to the ground well out of bounds. Rodgers-Cromartie, whose actions also resulted in a 15-yard penalty, said he thought Holt was still inbounds.
Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando
The Rams had to like the way they ran the ball during the early stages of their Week 9 game against the Cardinals. Their first six carries produced 24 yards and two first downs, all in the Rams' first eight snaps.
One problem: The Rams' running backs combined to lose 2 yards on their next 11 carries. Rams running backs Steven Jackson and Antonio Pittman combined for 17 carries and 29 yards overall. Jackson played 21 snaps by my count. Pittman played 31 despite suffering a hamstring injury early in the game. Jackson, still bothered by a thigh injury, might not play in Week 10. Pittman is out.
The Cardinals have enough firepower in the passing game to compete and win without much production on the ground. The Rams do not. Marc Bulger is going to struggle most weeks if the offense isn't funneling through a productive running back.
The last time Jackson was healthy, during an upset victory over Dallas, the Rams averaged 8.6 yards per attempt from their "regular" offense with two backs, two receivers and one tight end. They ran the ball on 14 of 17 plays from this grouping.
Everything changed against the Cardinals. The Rams used this grouping only 10 times. This included two runs totaling zero yards. They struck big with an 80-yard touchdown pass to Derek Stanley but the remaining pass plays from this group yielded a 6-yard completion, one interception, four incomplete passes and one sack (with a lost fumble). The interception helped Cardinals safety Antrel Rolle become the NFC's Defensive Player of the Week.
Here's what the Rams' ground game looked like on first down Sunday: two early rushes totaling 19 yards, followed by five rushes totaling zero yards. This included three plays that lost yardage and one play with a fumble after a 2-yard gain.