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Rams fail to make up ground in NFC West

TEMPE, Ariz. (AP) -- The NFC West is so bad that a team with a
losing record could win it -- even the Arizona Cardinals.

The St. Louis Rams had a chance to take control of the league's
worst division on Sunday, but they fell flat in a 31-7 loss to the
Cardinals.

Josh McCown threw for two touchdowns and ran for two more and
the Cardinals snapped a four-game losing streak.

McCown, starting his second game since being benched for three,
went 22-of-34 for 287 yards with no interceptions. He had TD passes
of 8 and 4 yards to Larry Fitzgerald, and scoring runs of 1 and 9
yards.

A victory would have moved the Rams into a tie with Seattle atop
the division, since St. Louis holds the tiebreaker with two wins
over the Seahawks. Instead, the Rams fell to 6-8, just one game
ahead of the Cardinals (5-9), who improbably are still alive.

"We didn't see this coming," Rams wide receiver Torry Holt
said. "If there was any game on the schedule that we felt
confident about coming in and winning, it would be Arizona."

If Arizona wins its last two, and both Seattle and St. Louis go
0-2, the Cardinals would take the division title at 7-9.

"I'm surprised that a 5-9 team is in it, but I'm not surprised
that it's this team," McCown said. "We have it in us. We have the
talent, we have the capability to do this, it's just a consistency
thing."

With quarterback Marc Bulger out with a shoulder injury,
39-year-old Chris Chandler lasted just one quarter for the Rams
before he was replaced by Jamie Martin, who saw his first
regular-season action in two years. He was signed by the Rams
earlier this month when Bulger was injured.

St. Louis coach Mike Martz put much of the blame on Chandler,
saying the veteran quarterback threw the ball on a run play on the
first series and made other elementary mistakes.

"It's tragic for this football team, for that position to hold
this whole football team hostage," Martz said, "but that's where
we are."

Martz praised Martin's play, considering the circumstances, but
said, "I just don't know what to call when you've got a guy in
there that's never been in there."

The Rams' touchdown came on Leonard Little's 61-yard fumble
return with 7 seconds left in the first half.

"When you score 31 points, hold a team to seven points and
basically no points against the offense -- and not in position to
kick even field goals -- then you feel like you've done a very good
job," Arizona coach Dennis Green said.

St. Louis' only serious offensive threat ended when Holt was hit
by Ifeanyi Ohalete and fumbled as he was about to cross the goal
line. Ohalete recovered in the end zone for a touchback.

The Rams had minus-20 yards of offense in the first quarter.
Chandler, intercepted six times last week, was 1-for-6 for 1 yard
with an interception. He was sacked twice.

Arizona went 73 yards in 10 plays on its second possession.
McCown's 30-yard pass to Bryant Johnson and Emmitt Smith's 19-yard
run set up McCown's 1-yard sneak for the score.

Then, Chandler overthrew Isaac Bruce and David Macklin
intercepted at the St. Louis 44. Neil Rackers' 48-yard field goal
made it 10-0. McCown's 8-yarder to Fitzgerald made it 17-0.

With seconds left before halftime, Arizona moved from its 20 to
the St. Louis 29, but Leonard Davis missed a block and McCown was
hit by Anthony Hargrove. Little picked up the ball and ran it back,
cutting Arizona's lead to 17-7.

The Cardinals went ahead 24-7 on McCown's 4-yard pass to
Fitzgerald halfway through the third quarter. A roughing-the-passer
penalty on McCown's third-down 18-yard completion to Obafemi
Ayanbadejo set up McCown's 9-yard touchdown sweep and it was 31-7
with 10:54 left.

McCown has had two strong showings since his benching. He said
that he learned from watching after being in the action for awhile.
Also, while he was benched, a close family member died -- an
experience that has made him more relaxed on the field.

"Just realizing how short life is and wanting to come out and
play like it's your last game every time, and just cutting it
loose," McCown said, declining to identify the relative.

Game notes
Rams LB Tommy Polley was thrown out of the game for punching
Arizona NT Russell Davis on the sideline with 13:32 remaining. ...
St. Louis allowed over 30 points for the sixth time this season.
... The Rams lost to an NFC West team for the first time this
season. ... Emmitt Smith left with a sudden migraine headache in
the second quarter, but came back in the second half.