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The special feeling the Rams experienced following their stunning upset victory over the Saints two Sundays ago seems like a distant memory after special-teams breakdowns were the key reason they dropped further into the NFC West basement following a painful 19-13 overtime loss to the Cardinals in Arizona.
A little less than two minutes into overtime after 6-foot-8 Cardinals DE Calais Campbell blocked Rams PK Josh Brown's 42-yard field-goal attempt on the final play of regulation, Arizona rookie Patrick Peterson polished off a 99-yard punt return for a TD that once again appears to have put the futures of Rams head coach Steve Spagnuolo and GM Billy Devaney in serious jeopardy.
Making matters worse were injuries to rookie WR Greg Salas (fractured fibula) and TE Lance Kendricks (foot) that offset the mostly successful return to action of QB Sam Bradford, who had missed the previous two games with a high-ankle sprain.
The PFW Spin
For Peterson's sake!
Perhaps the Rams' coverage unit deserves some slack, considering that Peterson's game-winning romp was already his third punt return for a TD in only eight games. But the sum of the Rams' special-teams parts on Sunday didn't add up to a hill of beans. Campbell's blocked kick was a crushing blow, the worst of a series of mishaps that also included untimely penalties, a botched fair catch and ill-advised kick returns out of the endzone by Quinn Porter.
While it's conceivable Spagnuolo and Devaney will be spared this season, it's hard to imagine a similar occurrence for special-teams coordinator Tom McMahon after Sunday's fiasco.
Salas' season-ending injury, meanwhile, is a particularly bad break in more ways than one. At the time of his injury with 4:30 left in regulation, he had been doing yeoman's work in the slot, leading the team with seven catches for 59 yards. The consensus among daily team observers seemed to be that, while he was no Danny Amendola, Salas was showing steady progress. With him out of the picture, the onus falls on fellow rookie Austin Pettis, who earlier this season flamed out when given the opportunity to strut his stuff but did an OK job late Sunday when pressed into action.
In a unit already feeling the effects of Danario Alexander's tender hamstring and Mark Clayton's sore Achilles tendon — which is keeping him from being activated after starting the season on the physically-unable-to-perform list — Kendrick's foot injury is the latest setback for an offense that has shown signs of life but continues to repeatedly shoot itself in the foot. Spagnuolo said Kendricks is "day to day" in his Monday afternoon press conference.
Bradford had his moments Sunday, completing 23-of-36 passes for 255 yards. He said recently that being able to spend time on the sideline with offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels enabled him to get a better understanding of the team's revamped scheme, and he displayed flashes that attest to an improvement in his comfort zone.
"He went out there and played and he did some really good things," Spagnuolo said of Bradford. "I think our team was sparked by the fact that he was out there playing. I think he showed a tremendous amount of courage to go out there and hang in there and stay in there with all the things that the quarterback has to face. Protect himself, get the ball out on time, I thought it was admirable what he did.
"I'm sure he'll tell you that he wished he would have played better in certain areas. I'll tell you what, that's not easy to do."
On the other side of the ball, the defense came to play for the second consecutive week, limiting the Cardinals to 262 yards.
But unless the Rams can do a complete about-face in Cleveland Sunday against a Browns team currently sitting in the AFC North basement at 3-5, it could be asking an awful lot to expect a return to respectability at this stage of the season.