Sep 8, 2013; St. Louis, MO, USA; St. Louis Rams kicker Greg Zuerlein (4) celebrates with punter Johnny Hekker (6) after kicking the game winning 48 yard field goal against the Arizona Cardinals during the second half at Edward Jones Dome. St. Louis defeated Arizona 27-24. Mandatory Credit: Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports
By Howard Balzer for KSDK Sports
What we learned from the Rams' 27-24 win over the Arizona Cardinals:
*Yes, this Jared Cook guy can play. How is it that he had just 49 and 44 receptions the last two seasons in Tennessee with a total of seven touchdowns? He insisted all summer that this offense is a better fit, and is it ever.
Cook had seven receptions for 141 yards with two touchdowns against the Cardinals. The Rams had three plays of 25 yards or more in the game and Cook had them all: 47, 36 and 25. The 47-yarder was the only glitch when Tyrann Mathieu caught up to him in the open field and knocked the ball out of his hands.
Asked about Cook's play, coach Jeff Fisher offered a succinct response: "Near perfect. That's why he's here."
*Officials will be watching cornerback Cortland Finnegan very closely, and he now knows it. Finnegan had a hand in every Arizona offensive score.
He had good coverage on wide receiver Michael Floyd, but couldn't stop a 44-yard second-quarter reception to the 4-yard line that led to an Arizona 7-0 lead. On Arizona's next possession, after an 18-yard pass to Floyd, Finnegan got nailed for unnecessary roughness, moving the ball to the Rams' 14-yard line. The defense stiffened and limited the Cardinals to a field goal and a 10-3 lead.
Then, in the third quarter, he was hit with another unnecessary roughness penalty for hitting wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald out of bounds. Eight plays later, Fitzgerald beat Finnegan on a 25-yard touchdown catch. That gave Arizona a 24-13 lead.
"Unacceptable," Finnegan said later. "I just can't do that." He then vowed, "I've got it all out of my system. We've got 15 more (games), you won't get another one out of me. You don't want to hurt the team. I did that today. I'm glad we got a win. You've just got to learn from that."
Let's hope so.
*The Rams are capable of recovering a fumble. Last season, there were countless times the ball was on the ground in key situations and the Rams weren't able to come up with it. Opponents fumbled 17 times in 2012, and the Rams recovered only four.
For a while, Sunday was more of the same. There was the first-quarter strip sack by Robert Quinn, but tackle Levi Brown recovered for Arizona. There were two more, including on the kickoff return in the fourth quarter after the Rams had pulled to within 24-21. Javier Arenas was blasted by Matt Giordano, but Tony Jefferson recovered for the Cardinals.
The tide turned on the fifth play of that possession when Quinn stripped quarterback Carson Palmer again, and this time Chris Long emerged from the scrum with the ball.
"I had it all the way," Long said. "Guys were pulling at it, but no way was I letting it go."
Said Fisher, "(After) the first fumble that we don't get, you start thinking, 'Oh boy, one of these has got to bounce our way,' and then we open the half and their defensive tackle scores an interception for a touchdown. So now you know you're going to have to go make some plays."
And they did.
*This offensive line just might be pretty good. Quarterback Sam Bradford wasn't sacked, the third straight game that's been the case, dating back to last season.
"I can't say enough about those guys up front," Bradford said. "They played outstanding today, and I think it shows that we've taken leaps and bounds from where we were last year. I thought the communication between myself and the line - I thought Scott (center Scott Wells) did a great job of getting things solved. They threw some looks at us, especially on third down, that we hadn't seen in the preseason and those guys didn't flinch at all. They kept doing their jobs, kept me protected, and allowed us to make some plays towards the end of the game."
There was some concern when right tackle Rodger Saffold left after the Rams' 15th play of the game with a left knee injury. But he missed just five plays and returned on the next possession.
Saffold missed time in the preseason with a dislocated shoulder and has had several injury issues the previous two seasons.
He said, "I'm thinking, 'Why me, why me?' But I had to get back out there with my guys." After pausing, Saffold insisted, "I'm playing all 16 games."
*OK, he's not RGIII or Colin Kaepernick, but Bradford can move when he has to. Perhaps the most shocking play was when he went up the middle on a quarterback draw for the two-point conversion that got the Rams within 24-21.
Said Bradford, "Yeah, how'd you guys like that? That was pretty good, huh? That was pretty good. I think they had no idea that I was going to run the ball on that play and I think that's why it worked so well."
When someone joked that the read-option might be in the game plan next week, Bradford said, "Yeah I think so. I think we were saving that for Week 2, so you guys keep your eyes out for that one."
However, the biggest play Bradford made with his legs came late in the second quarter with the Rams trailing 10-3. On third-and-6 from their own 48-yard line, Bradford sensed pressure coming, quickly moved to his right and on the run hit wide receiver Chris Givens on a 12-yard pass to the Arizona 40. Five plays later, it was a 13-yard touchdown pass to Cook with 26 seconds remaining, and the game was tied. It remained that way at halftime when Arizona kicker Jay Feely missed a 50-yard field goal on the final play of the half.
The counterpoint to that was kicker Greg Zuerlein's 48-yard field goal that won the game with 40 second remaining.
Howard Balzer will be contributing to KSDK Sports throughout the 2013 season. Howard hosts PrimeTime Monday-Friday from 6-8 pm on CBS Sports 920, and Pro Football Sunday pre- and post-game shows on 590 the Man. He is also a host on SiriusXM NFL radio and one of 44 selectors for the Pro Football Hall of Fame.