NFC West: Wrap-up

Wrap-up: Rams 28, Buccaneers 13

December, 23, 2012

Thoughts on the St. Louis Rams' 28-13 victory over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on the road in Week 16:

What it means: The Rams improved to 7-7-1 but were eliminated from playoff contention when Minnesota upset Houston. The Rams can still finish with a winning record in Jeff Fisher's first season as head coach. Just being in that position marks substantial progress for the Rams. Their future appears brighter thanks to strong play from quite a few rookies. Michael Brockers, Janoris Jenkins and Trumaine Johnson were among the 2012 draft choices standing out during this game. The Rams could still use more consistent play from quarterback Sam Bradford, however.

What I liked: Rookie cornerbacks Jenkins and Johnson made game-changing plays. Jenkins provided his third pick-six of the season, a big reason St. Louis held a 14-6 halftime lead despite few positive contributions from the offense. Safety Quintin Mikell was also a force for the Rams as he continues his effective play on blitzes. Mikell, Chris Long and Kendall Langford had first-half sacks.

The Rams' defense generally contained Buccaneers running back Doug Martin. Their defense also might have saved the game by stopping Tampa Bay's Josh Freeman on a fourth-and-1 sneak attempt from the St. Louis 5-yard line while the Rams were protecting a 28-13 lead in the third quarter. The Buccaneers hurried to the line in an attempt to catch the Rams off-guard, but Brockers and the rest of the defensive interior stopped Freeman with yardage to spare. The Rams made another fourth-down stop inside the St. Louis 10 later in the game. Those stops were critical.

Bradford and the offense bounced back from a slow first half by opening the third quarter with an 80-yard touchdown. Bradford found tight end Lance Kendricks wide open for the quarterback's longest touchdown pass as a pro. Bradford also found Austin Pettis for a touchdown against Tampa Bay.

What I didn't like: The Rams again lost the time-of-possession battle early. They failed to score in a first quarter for the fifth consecutive game. Early offside penalties against Long and Robert Quinn hurt, as did a 15-yard penalty for a face mask.

First-half turnovers set back the Rams. Bradford threw an interception in the end zone. Danny Amendola lost a fumble deep in Rams territory. The Rams finished with 285 yards while allowing 429. They lost the time-of-possession battle by about 12 minutes. Mike Williams (61-yard touchdown and 132 yards overall) joined Vincent Jackson (108 yards) as 100-yard receivers for Tampa Bay.

Jenkins' status: Jenkins, a second-round choice, is playing his way into the conversation for defensive rookie of the year. He might not be the favorite, but at the very least, his four touchdowns will make it tough to ignore him without some explanation.

Jackson nearing 1,000: Steven Jackson had 81 yards rushing and a touchdown. He needs 10 yards in Week 17 for his eighth consecutive 1,000-yard season.

What's next: The Rams close out the regular season with a game at Seattle.

Wrap-up: Seahawks 50, Bills 17

December, 16, 2012

Thoughts on the Seattle Seahawks' victory over the Buffalo Bills in Toronto:

What it means: The Seahawks improved to 9-5, ensuring their first winning season since 2007. They strengthened their hold on a wild-card playoff berth, at least. This victory sets up a potentially pivotal Week 16 game against the NFC West-leading San Francisco 49ers. A 49ers defeat at New England in the Sunday night game would put first place on the line at CenturyLink Field next week. The Seahawks have won five of their past six games thanks largely to outstanding play from rookie quarterback Russell Wilson.

What I liked: Everything about the Seattle offense. Three first-half rushing touchdowns from Wilson and consistently productive running from Marshawn Lynch allowed the Seahawks to control the game. Wilson entered this game without a rushing touchdown in the NFL, but his threat as a runner has become more pronounced. This marked a continuation of Wilson's late-game rushing against Chicago two weeks ago. He also threw the ball well, but Seattle did not need his arm much in this game.

Defensively, the Seahawks' rookie cornerback, Jeremy Lane, did a good job defending the deep ball early. Buffalo appeared interested in testing him deep downfield. Lane and the secondary fared well in that area even though corners Brandon Browner (suspended) and Walter Thurmond (injured) did not play. Second-year linebacker K.J. Wright picked off a pass in the third quarter. Up front, Chris Clemons had two sacks, including one producing a fumble return for teammate Bruce Irvin. Jason Jones pressured Ryan Fitzpatrick into a pick-six throw, one Earl Thomas returned 57 yards.

What I didn't like: The defense was too forgiving early in the game. C.J. Spiller found ample running room. The pass rush wasn't very effective until the score was out of hand. Kicker Steven Hauschka had an extra-point try blocked.

Running it up: The Seahawks executed a successful fake punt while holding a 47-17 lead in the fourth quarter. The play set up a field goal for a 50-17 lead. Last week, the Seahawks threw for the end zone on a fourth-and-23 play while holding a 51-0 lead over the Arizona Cardinals. Throwing a conventional pass while blowing out an opponent differs from using tactics such as onside kicks and fake punts.

Eye-popping numbers: The Seahawks have outscored their past two opponents by a 108-17 margin. They have exceeded 460 total yards against each of their past three opponents. The Seahawks and 49ers combined for more than 1,000 yards against the Bills this season.

What's next: The Seahawks close out the regular season with home games against San Francisco and St. Louis.

Wrap-up: Vikings 36, Rams 22

December, 16, 2012

Thoughts on the St. Louis Rams' performance during a 36-22 home defeat to the Minnesota Vikings in Week 15:

What it means: The Rams lost ground in the NFC West and NFC playoff picture while falling to 6-7-1. This was only the Rams' second defeat since Oct. 28, but it was a costly one. Home defeats against Christian Ponder (Vikings) and Mark Sanchez (New York Jets) could wind up keeping the Rams from the postseason in Jeff Fisher's first year as head coach.

What I liked: Fans gave Steven Jackson a standing ovation after the running back passed 10,000 rushing yards for his career. Fans had every right to be cranky at that point. The Rams trailed 33-7 late in the third quarter when Jackson achieved the milestone. It was good to see fans set aside their disappointment to honor one of the top players in franchise history. Rookie receiver Brian Quick caught a scoring pass for the second time in his career, both in the past six games. The 4-yard reception tied the score early in the second quarter. Sam Bradford threw a second touchdown pass early in the fourth quarter, an impressive throw to the back of the end zone through traffic for Danny Amendola. He made it three touchdowns with a 6-yarder to Lance Kendricks in the final eight minutes.

What I didn't like: The Rams were not competitive at home against a flawed team and with playoff positioning on the line. Yes, they rallied in the fourth quarter, but only after the Vikings had built a 33-7 lead. The Rams could not sufficiently protect Bradford. They could not stop Ponder from making plays on third-and-long, fourth-and-short and third-and-goal during the Vikings' opening touchdown drive. They could not stop Adrian Peterson from breaking off an 82-yard touchdown run right after Quick's tying touchdown reception. They could not protect the football, turning it over with a bad center exchange and with an interception Minnesota's Everson Griffen returned for a touchdown. The pick-six made the score 24-7 midway through the second quarter. Game over.

Playoff picture: The Rams could still earn a wild-card berth if they finished 8-7-1 while second-place teams from the other NFC divisions finished 8-8 or worse. They'll need to win road games against Tampa Bay and Seattle to have a chance. The New York Giants' defeat Sunday helped. The Chicago Bears' defeat also helped. Washington won comfortably and that was not good for the Rams.

No stopping Peterson: Peterson carried 24 times for a season-high 212 yards and a touchdown. The Rams went into the game determined to contain him, largely by keeping him on the sideline while their offense controlled the ball. They gave up too many long runs. Peterson now has 1,812 yards heading into the final two regular-season games.

What's next: The Rams visit the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in Week 16.

Wrap-up: 49ers 27, Dolphins 13

December, 9, 2012

Thoughts on the San Francisco 49ers' 27-13 victory over the Miami Dolphins at Candlestick Park in Week 14:

What it means: The 49ers improved to 9-3-1, maintaining their lead in the NFC West on a day when Seattle (on its way to 8-5) was winning big and St. Louis (6-6-1) also won. That was critical for San Francisco as the team heads into more difficult road games against New England and the Seahawks.

What I liked: Colin Kaepernick completed 18 of 23 passes for 185 yards, good for a 100.2 NFL passer rating. His 50-yard scoring run in the final minutes put away the game for San Francisco.

Second-year outside linebacker Aldon Smith, who entered the game tied with Fred Dean for the single-season 49ers sack record (17.5), moved into sole possession of the mark with a first-half sack.

Rookie running back LaMichael James picked up 10 yards on his first carry of the season. He looked good. Receiver Michael Crabtree continued to produce after the catch. Frank Gore topped 1,000 yards rushing for the season and had a touchdown run.

The 49ers held the Dolphins to 227 yards.

What I didn't like: Kaepernick took four sacks, and the offense wasn't all that cohesive. San Francisco allowed a touchdown drive early in the fourth quarter after taking a 20-6 lead. The Dolphins were more efficient than the 49ers on third and fourth downs. That was clear again when San Francisco went three-and-out after Miami pulled within 20-13. The 49ers had converted only one of eight (12 percent) third-down chances to that point, compared to five of 11 (45 percent) chances for the Dolphins.

San Francisco allowed three sacks to Miami's Cameron Wake.

A 15-yard penalty against the 49ers for NaVorro Bowman's hit on Ryan Tannehill gave Miami a first down at the San Francisco 35-yard line in the final five minutes. Bowman made an aggressive play. He did not appear to do anything dirty. But officials have been instructed to err on the side of protecting quarterbacks. They did that on this play. Penalties have been a problem for the 49ers recently. That was the case late.

What's next: The 49ers visit the New England Patriots in Week 15.

Wrap-up: Rams 15, Bills 12

December, 9, 2012

Thoughts on the St. Louis Rams' 15-12 victory over the Buffalo Bills in Week 14:

What it means: The Rams have won three consecutive games for the first time since 2006. Quarterback Sam Bradford enhanced his already strong fourth-quarter credentials with a game-winning drive featuring outstanding plays from his receiving targets as well. St. Louis improved to 6-6-1 and kept itself alive in the NFC playoff picture. This was a huge road victory for the Rams, who had gone 1-6 outside the NFC West before Sunday. The defense deserves credit for hanging tough and keeping the Bills' scoring down without enough help for most of the game.

What I liked: Bradford entered this game ranked third behind Jay Cutler and Peyton Manning in fourth-quarter Total QBR. Austin Pettis helped him out on that front with a sensational fourth-and-1 grab on a pass well behind him as the Rams drove in the final two minutes. Bradford threaded a 22-yarder to Lance Kendricks over the middle on the same drive. Brandon Gibson also emerged in key spots, including on his 8-yard scoring reception to take the lead in the final minute. With that, Bradford led the winning 84-yard touchdown drive to salvage what had been a dispiriting performance from the offense.

The Rams' defense bent, but it rarely broke despite getting little help from the offense most of the way. Stopping the Bills after Buffalo took over at its own 49-yard line in the fourth quarter was critical. The Rams got 2.5 sacks from their starting defensive tackles, including 1.5 from rookie Michael Brockers. Linebacker Jo-Lonn Dunbar preserved the victory with an interception in the final 30 seconds.

Bradford and Gibson got going in the third quarter as St. Louis took the lead. Bradford also showed his running ability, picking up 12 yards on a third-and-9.

What I didn't like: The offense couldn't get anything going by ground or air through the first half and too much of the second. The Rams joined the Kansas City Chiefs as the only teams to go scoreless against the Bills through a first half. The Bills' defensive front, improved in recent weeks as its health has improved, appeared to have its way with the Rams up front. Bradford took too many hits. For too long, the Rams' receivers appeared to have a hard time getting open. The weather was wet and the field at Ralph Wilson Stadium looked like a slow track.

Rookie punter Johnny Hekker mishandled a punt snap and took a hard hit while trying to punt the ball, giving the Bills possession at the St. Louis 37.

What's next: The Rams are home against the Minnesota Vikings in Week 15.

Wrap-up: Rams 16, 49ers 13 (OT)

December, 2, 2012

Thoughts on the San Francisco 49ers and St. Louis Rams following the Rams' 16-13 victory in overtime Sunday at the Edward Jones Dome:

What it means: The Rams improved to 4-0-1 against the NFC West with a victory carrying long- and short-term implications for the division. St. Louis served notice again that it's going to be a player in the division for years to come under coach Jeff Fisher. And while a playoff push isn't likely given the Rams' 5-6-1 record, they at least opened the door for 7-5 Seattle to challenge the 8-3-1 49ers atop the division. This outcome will also provide an opportunity to revisit the 49ers' decision to replace quarterback Alex Smith with Colin Kaepernick. That will likely be the case every time San Francisco loses a game for the remainder of this season.

What I liked: Both defenses played well from the beginning. The Rams held the 49ers to their lowest point total since a game against Seattle in Week 7.

Kaepernick and Ted Ginn Jr. combined for a key fumble, but Kaepernick bounced back with the 50-yard run. He scrambled to convert on third down earlier in the game. That was good for the 49ers, obviously, but it also reflected good pass defense by the Rams. And when the Rams finally did drive deep into 49ers territory, San Francisco made a fourth-and-goal stop to preserve its 7-0 lead.

Frank Gore broke a 23-yard run for the 49ers and scored the only touchdown of the first half. Teammate Aldon Smith collected another sack, giving him 17.5 this season and more through two seasons than any player since the NFL began tracking sacks in 1982.

Rams rookie Janoris Jenkins, who scored two touchdowns against Arizona last week, collected another one when he returned the Kaepernick fumble to the end zone. And when the Rams' Sam Bradford found Lance Kendricks on the two-point conversion, the game was tied 10-10.

Rams rookie Greg Zuerlein made the tying 53-yarder and the winning 56-yarder to continue a remarkable first season.

What I didn't like: The Rams couldn't score in a goal-to-go situation early in the third quarter. This was a rare chance for the Rams to get points. Going for it on fourth down was understandable. The strategy has worked for the Rams in recent weeks. Failing to get points there really hurt, though.

The 49ers took a safety when officials determined Kaepernick did not get the ball past the line of scrimmage on a pass from the end zone. Replays seemed to show the ball traveling past the line, however. That might have been questionable call. The ruling was a bit confusing. However, as Fox analyst Mike Pereira explained, the line of scrimmage extends out of bounds for the purposes of grounding penalties.

Niners kicker David Akers missed a 51-yard attempt at the game winner in overtime. Akers has been playing hurt and his long-range kicking in particular has suffered.

What's next: The 49ers are home against Miami in Week 14. The Rams visit the Buffalo Bills.

Wrap-up: Jets 7, Cardinals 6

December, 2, 2012

Thoughts on the Arizona Cardinals' 7-6 road defeat to the New York Jets:

What it means: The Cardinals have lost eight in a row following their 4-0 start. Coach Ken Whisenhunt's decision to switch quarterbacks continued to produce no dividends, amplifying questions about whether Whisenhunt made the right move in benching John Skelton while leading Atlanta two weeks ago. Ryan Lindley completed eight of his first 25 passes with a pick. That wasn't nearly good enough.

What I liked: The Cardinals' defense continued to do its part. Arizona picked off Mark Sanchez three times, leading the Jets to bench Sanchez. Rashad Johnson gained 40 yards on a rushing play. Larry Fitzgerald had a 23-yard reception. Michael Floyd had a 16-yarder.

What I didn't like: The Cardinals have become unwatchable on offense, and they had five first downs. Lindley completed 10 of 31 attempts. The Cardinals needed to get points after dominating Sanchez and the Jets' offense. Lindley's inefficiency should not come as a huge surprise. He is a rookie sixth-round draft choice trying to assimilate after being named the starter well into the season. Still, if Whisenhunt and his staff know how to develop quarterbacks, we're not seeing evidence suggesting that is the case.

What's next: The Cardinals visit the Seattle Seahawks in Week 14.

Wrap-up: Rams 31, Cardinals 17

November, 25, 2012

Thoughts on the St. Louis Rams' 31-17 victory over the Arizona Cardinals in Week 12 at University of Phoenix Stadium:

What it means: The Cardinals' latest quarterback experiment will not produce immediate positive results, even at home against a struggling opponent. The Rams, who had not won since they defeated Arizona in Week 5, got strong play from Sam Bradford after the third-year quarterback briefly left the game with an injury. Sweeping the season series from Arizona puts the Rams (4-6-1) in position to finish ahead of the Cardinals (4-7) in the NFC West standings. The Cardinals are the first NFL team to lose seven consecutive games following a 4-0 start. They are hoping Kevin Kolb returns from injury soon.

What I liked: Cardinals rookie quarterback Ryan Lindley completed 7 of 8 passes to open the game as Arizona drove to Beanie Wells' touchdown run for a 7-0 lead. Lindley was making his first NFL start. It was important for Arizona to have Lindley inspire some confidence early in the game. Lindley made some impressive throws, but the four interceptions he threw more than offset them.

It was important for the Rams, conversely, that their defense finally ended its turnover drought before it reached an NFL-record six games. That happened when Rams rookie cornerback Janoris Jenkins returned a Lindley interception for a touchdown to tie the game, 7-7. Safety Craig Dahl picked off another Lindley pass later in the game. Jenkins collected another pick-six to put away the game for Arizona. Even linebacker James Laurinaitis picked off a pass.

Bradford showed toughness by returning quickly after taking a hard hit that left him holding his ribs. Bradford quickly moved the Rams down the field, connecting with second-year tight end Lance Kendricks for a touchdown off play-action. As players note, playing hurt is one thing. Playing well when hurt is another.

Steven Jackson topped 100 yards rushing for the Rams, a big help for Bradford and the offense. Rookie Chris Givens had a 37-yard touchdown reception for the Rams, continuing his big-play production. He also topped 100 yards.

Also, the Cardinals got two touchdowns from Beanie Wells in the running back's return from injury.

What I didn't like: Three three turnovers from Lindley made life tough for the Cardinals' defense. Still, Arizona gave up too many plays to a Rams offense that had struggled during a 27-13 defeat to the New York Jets last week. Bradford tossed a pick in the end zone for the second time in as many games against the Cardinals this season. Patrick Peterson picked off both of those passes. Cardinals receiver Larry Fitzgerald had a rough time producing for the second week in a row. He had one catch for 11 yards last week and had three catches for 31 yards deep into the fourth quarter. A holding penalty against Rams tackle Rodger Saffold spoiled a red zone opportunity for St. Louis.

What's next: Arizona visits the Jets. The Rams are home against San Francisco. St. Louis has a 3-0-1 record in NFC West play.

Wrap-up: Dolphins 24, Seahawks 21

November, 25, 2012

Thoughts on the Seattle Seahawks' 24-21 road loss to the Miami Dolphins in Week 12:

What it means: The Seattle defense failed to hold a late-game lead on the road once again, same as the case was at Detroit. As a result, the Seahawks are 6-5 heading into a road game against Chicago in Week 13. Quarterback Russell Wilson was outstanding in this game, same as he was at Detroit and same as he has generally been since about Week 5. This isn't the time to consider the bigger picture, however. Seattle has blown prime opportunities to improve its playoff chances in a competitive NFC. Conservative play calling on the Seahawks' final possession backfired.

What I liked: Leon Washington's 98-yard kickoff return for a touchdown broke a 14-14 tie in the fourth quarter. This was Washington's first return touchdown since 2010 and it came at the right time for Seattle.

Wilson made one of the more impressive plays a quarterback can make. He faced immediate pressure up the middle on a third-and-12 play in the second quarter. He spun away from pressure, rolled hard to his left and rifled a pass across his body to Sidney Rice for a 26-yard gain along the left sideline. Wilson's feel for the pocket and scrambling ability kept alive drives. He completed 21 of 27 passes for 224 yards and two touchdowns with a 125.9 passer rating.

Rice and fellow receiver Golden Tate continued a recent trend of making plays. Tate's acrobatic diving catch for a 32-yard gain before halftime set up the tying 3-yard touchdown pass to Anthony McCoy.

Wilson, who had struggled in third quarters this season, completed all seven attempts for 66 yards and a touchdown during an 80-yard drive to the go-ahead touchdown on Seattle's first possession of the second half. Wilson also scrambled for 23 yards on the drive. He completed 16 consecutive passes at one point, nearly tying Warren Moon's franchise record of 17, set during the 1998 season.

The Seahawks' defense shut down the Dolphins' offense early. Rookie middle linebacker Bobby Wagner picked off a pass. Defensive end Chris Clemons beat Dolphins left tackle Jake Long for a sack.

What I didn't like: The running game wasn't good enough for Seattle, including when the team opted for repeated handoffs while trying to get into range for a field goal with the game tied 21-21 late in the fourth quarter. Hindsight says the Seahawks should have tried a couple of quick passes to move the ball forward. Wilson had been hot. The running game been struggling. The play calling in that situation was questionable, at best.

Seattle's offense failed to gain a first down until the second quarter. The running game went nowhere early. Marshawn Lynch had a tough time finding running room most of the day. The Dolphins' Paul Soliai was a tough matchup for center Max Unger and the Seahawks' line.

A penalty against free safety Earl Thomas for an illegal hit on Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill wiped out a second interception for Wagner, this one in the end zone. The penalty gave the Dolphins a first-and-goal situation, setting up the tying touchdown with 8:08 remaining in the fourth quarter. Thomas leaped to defend the pass. His momentum carried him into Tannehill. This was a killer penalty for Seattle. Penalties were a problem overall for Seattle, a change from recent form.

Seattle's defense busted coverage at key moments, including when Dolphins receiver Charles Clay got wide open for a 29-yard touchdown to tie the score at 21-21. Clemons' first-half sack was the only one Seattle recorded all game. Tannehill completed 18 of 26 passes for 253 yards with one touchdown, one pick and a 97.1 passer rating.

What's next: The Seahawks visit the Bears in Week 13.

Wrap-up: Falcons 23, Cardinals 19

November, 18, 2012

Thoughts on the Arizona Cardinals' 23-19 defeat to the Atlanta Falcons in the Georgia Dome on Sunday:

What it means: The Cardinals have now lost six consecutive games following a 4-0 start. This game was a bit like their season. Arizona started quickly thanks to a strong defense, but quarterback issues dragged it down over time. Coach Ken Whisenhunt emphasized accountability during the bye week. He backed it up by benching quarterback John Skelton while the Cardinals held a 13-3 lead. Skelton missed a wide-open Larry Fitzgerald in the end zone as the Cardinals failed to fully capitalize on three first-quarter interceptions off Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan. The fact that Arizona picked off five passes and still lost highlighted the team's glaring issues at quarterback.

What I liked: The defense was fantastic and did enough to win this game with only average play from the quarterback position. Defensive end Darnell Dockett was disruptive. He batted one pass to set up an interception. He blew up running plays. The bye week seemed to restore Dockett's health and productivity. William Gay, Kerry Rhodes and Greg Toler had first-quarter interceptions. Inside linebacker Daryl Washington added a fourth pick in the second half. Sam Acho produced a fifth, collecting a pass that bounced off teammate Dan Williams' helmet as Williams leaped to defend the pass. LaRod Stephens-Howling gained 127 yards on 22 rushes. He had 52- and 40-yard runs in the half. The 52-yarder featured a jump cut for the ages. William Powell had a 65-yard kickoff return. Punter Dave Zastudil and the coverage units positively affected field position as the Cardinals jumped to their early lead. Toler made an outstanding effort at throwing a loose ball back inbounds so Arizona could recover for a turnover.

What I didn't like: The quarterback play was horrendous by NFL standards. Skelton had completed 2 of 7 passes for 6 yards when the Cardinals benched him. Rookie Ryan Lindley completed 2 of 7 passes for 18 yards on his first seven attempts. He completed 9 of 20 passes for 64 yards (3.2 per attempt) overall. The Cardinals ran the ball well and have talent at wide receiver. They needed more production from their passing game under the circumstances. The offense wasn't alert enough when the Falcons picked up a loose ball and returned it for a touchdown. The whistle had never blown. Arizona gave away free points on that play. Washington, though outstanding this season, committed a 15-yard penalty after the Cardinals stopped the Falcons on third-and-15. The Cardinals, after holding firm defensively much of the day, gave up a quick touchdown drive to lose the lead late. Fitzgerald could not finish a fourth-and-2 reception in Falcons territory as the team made its final push to retake the lead.

Notable: Minus the one game he had missed thanks to injury, veteran safety Adrian Wilson had played a higher percentage of defensive snaps than any Cardinal other than cornerback Patrick Peterson. Wilson wasn't on the field early in the game. His snaps were down overall. Was this one of the switches Whisenhunt had alluded to when he said during the bye that changes would be made? The quick hook for Skelton had to be one. Also, the Cardinals went away from rookie receiver Michael Floyd after he appeared to line up incorrectly, leading to a turnover.

Coaching gaffe: Falcons coach Mike Smith threw his challenge flag before officials initiated a mandatory review following the third-quarter turnover Toler helped to force. Smith's challenge was in violation of the rules. And because he threw the flag before booth officials initiated their review, the play became unreviewable. The Cardinals took over possession, short-circuiting a Falcons drive deep in Cardinals territory. Everyone makes mistakes, but coaches earning millions should know basic rules regarding challenges.

Key injury: Peterson suffered a hamstring injury, apparently in the fourth quarter.

What's next: The Cardinals are home against the Rams in Week 12.

Wrap-up: Jets 27, Rams 13

November, 18, 2012

Thoughts on the St. Louis Rams' 27-13 defeat against the New York Jets in the Edward Jones Dome on Sunday:

What it means: The Rams fell to 3-6-1 and have not won a game since defeating Arizona in Week 5. The offensive gains they made against San Francisco last week did not carry over into Week 11. St. Louis' inability to win at home against the reeling Jets, coupled with its inability to hold a double-digit lead against the 49ers, kills realistic thoughts of the Rams making a second-half run toward .500. The Rams are now 1-6 outside the NFC West.

What I liked: Quarterback Sam Bradford started quickly and staked the Rams to an early lead with a fourth-and-goal touchdown pass to Brandon Gibson. Rookie cornerback Janoris Jenkins, benched for disciplinary reasons last week, blocked a field goal try in the first half. The Rams also stuffed the Jets' Tim Tebow on an attempted fake punt after St. Louis coaches left their regular defense on the field. Steven Jackson averaged 6.2 yards per carry, rushing 13 times for 81 yards. Rookie Chris Givens had a 48-yard kickoff return. A penalty for holding wiped out a kickoff return for a touchdown. Defensive end Chris Long collected two sacks.

What I didn't like: The Jets contained Rams receiver Danny Amendola. Durability concerns also remained a problem for Amendola, who is easily the team's best receiver when healthy. Amendola was able to return to the game after suffering a foot injury. Still, this was the third time in Amendola's last eight games that an injury has forced him from the field. Bradford mostly appeared uncomfortable against the Jets' pressure and scheming. He wasn't able to create when pressured. Bradford completed only 23 of 44 passes (52 percent) for 170 yards, or 3.9 per attempt. The Rams made it six consecutive games without intercepting a pass. They made Mark Sanchez look like one of the more efficient quarterbacks in the league. Sanchez completed 15 of 20 passes for 178 yards with one touchdown and a 118.3 NFL passer rating.

What's next: The Rams visit the Arizona Cardinals in Week 12.

Wrap-up: Packers 31, Cardinals 17

November, 4, 2012

Thoughts on the Arizona Cardinals' 31-17 defeat to the Green Bay Packers at Lambeau Field in Week 9:

What it means: The Cardinals fell to 4-5 with their fifth consecutive defeat. The slope appears to get more slippery following a Week 10 bye. The team visits the Atlanta Falcons to kick off a four-game stretch featuring three road games. Running back Beanie Wells is expected to return Nov. 25, but the Cardinals' troubles go beyond one player. Even their defense is sagging. Arizona has allowed 17, 19, 21, 24 and 31 points during its slide.

What I liked: Arizona's defense held the Packers to a three-and-out and missed field goal after Green Bay opened its first possession from the Cardinals' 20-yard line. Defensive ends Calais Campbell and Darnell Dockett shared a sack to set back the Packers on that drive. Receiver Larry Fitzgerald's diving effort to cap his 31-yard scoring reception gave Arizona life in the second half. Andre Roberts had a 40-yard reception, Michael Floyd had a 37-yarder and Rob Housler had a 22-yarder. The Cardinals downed four of Dave Zastudil's punts inside the Green Bay 20-yard line. The coaching staff gave rookie Nate Potter a chance at left tackle. Potter had issues, but this was a good time to give him reps. Quarterback John Skelton took only two sacks, a low number for Arizona.

What I didn't like: The Cardinals gave up four touchdown passes to Aaron Rodgers, including two to Randall Cobb. And when Tom Crabtree slipped behind inside linebacker Paris Lenon for a 72-yard scoring grab in the second half, the Cardinals were pretty much finished. The Arizona ground game continued to struggle without Wells and Ryan Williams. LaRod Stephens-Howling and William Powell found little room to run. Early Doucet continued to struggle with dropped passes. The two he dropped gave him six drops for the season, twice his total for 2011. Outside linebacker O'Brien Schofield suffered an injured ankle. Patrick Peterson averaged only 4.8 yards per punt return. He has zero returns for touchdowns after getting four as a rookie in 2011. The Cardinals, meanwhile, allowed a 28-yard return and 15.3-yard average to Cobb.

What's next: The Cardinals have a bye before visiting the Falcons in Week 11.

Wrap-up: Patriots 45, Rams 7

October, 28, 2012

Thoughts on the St. Louis Rams' performance during a 45-7 Week 8 defeat to the New England Patriots in London:

What it means: The Rams fell to 3-5 with their third consecutive defeat. Their shortcomings, some compounded by injuries, have caught up to them against superior opponents. The bye week comes at a good time for St. Louis. The team should welcome back its top receiver, Danny Amendola. Other injured players, including left tackle Rodger Saffold and center Scott Wells, should also be closer to returning.

What I liked: The Rams were competitive early in the game. Chris Givens' 50-yard touchdown reception marked the fifth consecutive game Givens has had a reception of at least 50 yards. That broke Willie Gault's NFL rookie record, set in 1983. Rookie running backs Daryl Richardson and Isaiah Pead had runs covering 20 and 19 yards, respectively. The Rams limited Wes Welker to six receptions for 48 yards.

What I didn't like: Playing the game in London was a loss for the Rams. It took away their best chance for a victory.

The Rams had trouble matching up with the Patriots' offense. This game continued a recent trend of diminished pass defense for St. Louis. The team had forced eight interceptions over the first four games. Tom Brady had his way against the Rams on this day, just as Aaron Rodgers had done a week earlier.

The Rams also suffered from some breakdowns an overmatched team cannot afford, including a mishandled snap on a field goal try in the first half. Quarterback Sam Bradford took a hit and left the game briefly. Givens also left the game with a toe injury. The Rams allowed Rob Gronkowski and Brandon Lloyd to catch two scoring passes apiece.

What's next: The Rams visit the San Francisco 49ers in Week 10, following a bye.

Wrap-up: Lions 28, Seahawks 24

October, 28, 2012

Thoughts on the Seattle Seahawks' 28-24 loss to the Detroit Lions at Ford Field in Week 8:

What it means: The Seahawks fell to 4-4 with their second consecutive road defeat after their defense faltered late in the game. Seattle got what it needed in the fourth quarter from rookie quarterback Russell Wilson, who led a 12-play, 87-yard drive for the go-ahead touchdown. That was a positive and something the Seahawks can build upon. However, letting this game get away puts pressure on Seattle to win its five remaining home games to finish with a winning record.

What I liked: Wilson and the offense converted on third-and-10 and fourth-and-short during the go-ahead scoring drive in the fourth quarter. Receiver Sidney Rice and tight end Zach Miller caught scoring passes. Marshawn Lynch's 77-yard touchdown run was the Seahawks' longest since Shaun Alexander had an 88-yarder at Arizona. The run allowed Lynch to top 100 yards rushing even though the ground game wasn't consistently strong for Seattle, a bit of a surprise. Seattle shut out Calvin Johnson in the first half and prevented him from emerging as a dominant threat. Jackson couldn't handle the potential go-ahead scoring pass in the final minutes. Earl Thomas picked off a pass deep in Seahawks territory to ward off a Lions scoring chance.

What I didn't like: The Seahawks' defense gave up a season-high four touchdowns while struggling to defend third-and-long situations. That has been a problem at times, particularly on the road. The team sought to upgrade its pass rush in an effort to win those situations more frequently. The Lions converted 12 times in 16 third-down chances. Matthew Stafford topped 300 yards passing, joining Tom Brady in racking up yards against Seattle. The Seahawks, geared up to face Johnson, couldn't stop Titus Young, who caught nine passes for 100 yards and two scores, including the game winner in the final minute.

What's next: The Seahawks face the Minnesota Vikings at CenturyLink Field in Week 9.

Wrap-up: Vikings 21, Cardinals 14

October, 21, 2012

Thoughts on the Arizona Cardinals' 21-14 loss at Minnesota in Week 7:

What it means: The Cardinals fell to 4-3 with their third consecutive defeat. They've got San Francisco, Green Bay (road) and Atlanta (road) on the schedule from here. The team will need better play from quarterback John Skelton to avoid dropping to 4-6. It's fair to wonder whether the Cardinals will see rookie Ryan Lindley at quarterback at some point over the next few weeks, either through injury or Skelton's poor performance. (Update: Skelton finished strong, completing 11 of 14 passes with a touchdown in the fourth quarter).

What I liked: The Cardinals stuck with the running game early and got better production. LaRod Stephens-Howling tied the game at 7-7 with the team's first rushing touchdown since Week 2 and third of the season.

Paris Lenon's interception set up the scoring drive. Sam Acho made a diving interception right before halftime. The Cardinals' ground game and defense put the team in scoring position frequently enough to keep the game competitive -- if only the offense could capitalize.

Left tackle D'Anthony Batiste fared far better than expected in pass protection against Vikings defensive end Jared Allen.

What I didn't like: The Cardinals' run defense struggled from the beginning. Adrian Peterson popped a 28-yard run before his 13-yard touchdown run gave the Viking a 7-0 lead. Peterson topped 100 yards rushing. But with Jay Feely missing a field goal try right before halftime and Skelton throwing a pick-six in the third quarter, the Cardinals fell behind and the game slipped away.

What's next: The Cardinals are home against the San Francisco 49ers on "Monday Night Football" in Week 8.