Cardinals salvage season with first .500 mark in 9 years

GLENDALE, Ariz. (AP) -- The Arizona Cardinals put an end to eight consecutive losing seasons. The team would rather call it a beginning.

Larry Fitzgerald caught 11 passes for 171 yards and two touchdowns, and Arizona routed the St. Louis Rams 48-19 on Sunday, the Cardinals' highest-scoring output in 30 years.

The .500 record under first-year coach Ken Whisenhunt is Arizona's best since going 9-7 and making the playoffs in 1998. The Cardinals' only other non-losing season in 23 years was 8-8 in 1994, Buddy Ryan's first season as Arizona's coach.

"This is the building blocks for what we've got to do," Fitzgerald said. "I think this is great momentum."

Kurt Warner threw for 300 yards and three touchdowns but was intercepted twice. Oshiomogho Atogwe returned one of the picks 52 yards for a score that cut the Cardinals' lead to 31-19 with 1:48 left in the third quarter.

On the next possession, Anquan Boldin's 20-yard touchdown reception, his career-best ninth scoring catch of the season, boosted the lead to a comfortable 38-19 with 13:37 to play.

"We feel like we're a playoff team," Boldin said. "It's unfortunate that we're not going to continue to play because we're starting to hit our stride, especially on offense. That's something we can take into next season, to not let games go, because there are definitely a couple of games we would like to have back."

The Rams (3-13), plagued by injuries most of the year, finished with a four-game losing streak after opening 0-8.

"I think everybody knows that injuries are part of the game, and our job is to set our team up so we are in position and able to make the necessary adjustments to play with whatever injuries happen," Rams coach Scott Linehan said. "We weren't able to do it this year, and we fell short in a lot of areas. Just look at our record."

Antrel Rolle intercepted two of Marc Bulger's passes, returning the first 47 yards for a touchdown. It was Rolle's third return of a pick for a score this season. Gerald Hayes intercepted Gus Frerotte's pass and returned it 30 yards for a touchdown with 3:09 left.

Lost in the one-sided defeat was Jeff Wilkins tying Jason Elam's NFL record for consecutive conversion kicks at 371.

"To me, it's a tribute to the snapper and the holder," Wilkins said.

Warner, who took over from injured Matt Leinart against the Rams five games into the season, threw for 27 touchdowns, one shy of the Cardinals' season record shared by Charley Johnson (1963) and Neil Lomax (1984).

"I think we learned a lot about ourselves," Whisenhunt said. "We found out the areas that we need to improve in, and I think we worked to do that. I feel like we are a better team than our record is."

Arizona finished 6-2 at home. Sunday's 48 points were the most since the then-St. Louis Cardinals of coach Don Coryell beat New Orleans 49-31 on Oct. 23, 1977.

Edgerrin James rushed for 102 yards on 24 carries, including a 2-yard TD run.

Fitzgerald, who had TD catches of 20 and 6 yards, finished the season with 100 receptions.

Selected this season to his second Pro Bowl, the 24-year-old Fitzgerald broke a franchise record for a first half with 136 yards receiving, helping Arizona open a 24-6 lead. His eight first-half catches tied a first-half franchise mark.

"I'm just doing my job. This is what they pay me to do," he said. "I'm 24, I'm growing into the prime of my career now, and I've just got to keep getting better."

Twice the Cardinals went for it on fourth-and-4 and made it both times en route to touchdowns.

Arizona took the lead for good with two TDs in a 65-second span in the second quarter to go up 17-3.

The teams traded field goals in the first quarter, then a gamble by the Rams backfired. St. Louis failed to make it on fourth-and-4 at the Arizona 43.

The Cardinals went 57 yards in eight plays, the last 20 on runs of 15, 3 and 2 by James, and it was 10-3 with 7:45 left in the half. On the second play from scrimmage after the kickoff, Rolle made a diving interception, then got to his feet and evaded tacklers on a scrambling, 47-yard return for a score.

Game notes
With his seven catches, the Rams' Torry Holt became the 19th player in NFL history to have at least 800 career receptions. ... The Cardinals set a franchise record by returning six interceptions for scores this season. ... Isaac Bruce had two catches to pull ahead of Art Monk for sixth in NFL career receptions.


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