ST. LOUIS (AP) — Without his favorite target, Sam Bradford seemed lost. The top pick of the 2010 draft completed a measly seven passes.
The St. Louis Rams defense was there to pick him up – by continually knocking down Kevin Kolb.
The Rams (3-2) totaled nine sacks, their most since 1998, in a 17-3 victory Thursday night that ended the Arizona Cardinals’ early unbeaten run.
”They’ve played great all year,” Bradford said. ”They’ve kept us in a lot of games. Fortunately, we were able to make the big play in the fourth quarter to go up two scores, but all the credit tonight to our defense.”
Danny Amendola made a spectacular one-handed grab for a 44-yard gain on an underthrown ball that set up Bradford’s touchdown pass to Lance Kendricks’ on the Rams’ opening drive.
Bradford misfired on five consecutive passes before Amendola injured his right shoulder making a diving attempt on a 22-yarder that was initially ruled a catch but was overturned after the Cardinals challenged. Amendola used his left arm to fling his helmet on the way to the X-ray room and had his arm in a sling after the game, when he was not made available to reporters.
Bradford had six more incompletions plus an end zone interception by Patrick Peterson before ending the slump with a 52-yard touchdown pass to rookie Chris Givens for a 14-point cushion early in the fourth quarter. Givens, the fastest player on the team, had dropped a few passes earlier in the game.
”I don’t know how wide open I was,” Givens said. ”But I knew I was going to be open.”
The Cardinals outgained the Rams 282-242. But St. Louis made all the big plays.
Robert Quinn had three sacks, and six others had one apiece. Rookie cornerback Janoris Jenkins had three pass breakups.
”We know we can be a dominant defense,” said Quinn, a first-round pick last year. ”We don’t try to talk too much. Just go out there and execute, and let our play do the talking for us.”
Arizona (4-1) scored at least 20 points in each of its first four games, but had no luck containing a pass rush that had totaled just six sacks on the year and got stopped twice inside the 20 in the final minutes. The Rams also had a strong defensive game last week in a 19-13 victory over Seattle, also at home.
”I didn’t like anything,” Arizona coach Ken Whisenhunt said. ”The thing I respected is our guys didn’t quit. And even as bad as it went, we had a chance at the end of the game.”
Kolb got his helmet knocked off twice on hits, once after getting popped in the jaw. He described the Cardinals’ first-half woes as ”sickening.”
Arizona was one-dimensional, gaining just 45 yards rushing on 17 carries.
”We need to get our running game going,” Kolb said. ”That’s no secret. That can slow them down some, but it is what it is.”
Kendricks caught a 7-yard TD pass in the first quarter and Greg Zuerlein kicked a 53-yard field goal in the second quarter for the Rams, who are 3-0 at home and ended Arizona’s seven-game winning streak in St. Louis – the Cardinals’ home before leaving for the desert in 1988.
The Rams have gotten off to a good start under new coach Jeff Fisher after earning just two victories last year. They’re 3-0 at home for the first time since 2003, when they were unbeaten in the Edward Jones Dome, and they’re above .500 for the first time since they were 4-3 on Nov. 4, 2006.
”I’ve never been there before,” Rams defensive end Chris Long said. ”I’m unfamiliar with the sound of it, but I’m liking it.”
Bradford finished 7 for 21 for 141 yards, the second-lowest total of his career. He threw for 126 yards against Tampa Bay his rookie year in 2010.
The Rams, ranked 27th in offense, came out throwing, with Bradford completing passes of 14 yards to Brandon Gibson and 44 yards to Amendola on the first two plays, setting up the score to Kendricks on third down. It was the first offensive touchdown in three games for St. Louis.
Arizona responded with a drive that lasted 9:24, ending with Jay Feely’s 35-yard field goal. The Cardinals kept the drive alive with three third-down conversions. Larry Fitzgerald’s 5-yard catch on the first play of the drive marked his 122nd straight game with a catch, a franchise record.
Zuerlein, a sixth-round draft pick out of Missouri Western, made it 10-3 early in the second quarter. He is 13 for 13 this season, including four kicks of 50-plus yards.
Feely missed a 40-yard field goal late in the second quarter.
Bradford was 3 for 4 for 65 yards on the opening drive before cooling off. St. Louis was well within Zuerlein’s range at the Arizona 16 late in the third quarter when Peterson made an interception in the back of the end zone.
Arizona’s loss leaves Atlanta and Houston as the only unbeaten teams. The Cardinals were still the St. Louis Cardinals the last time they were 4-0, in 1974. Known as the ”Big Red,” those Cardinals won their first seven that season en route to a 10-4 record, before losing in the first round of the playoffs to Minnesota.
The loss was only the Cardinals’ third in 14 games after starting the 2011 season 1-6.
NOTES: Fitzgerald broke the mark set by Mel Gray from 1973-82 and finished with eight catches for 92 yards, leaving him 48 yards shy of 10,000 for his career. … Kurt Warner, who took the Rams to two Super Bowls and the Cardinals to one, got a huge sustained ovation when he was introduced in the first quarter. Warner and another former Rams great, Marshall Faulk, are on the NFL Network broadcast team. … Rams S Quintin Mikell and Cardinals backup LB Reggie Walker were sidelined by blows to the head.