With the league news cycle at a lull and the start of the preseason still weeks away, I thought it would be a good time to take a look back at the Cardinals’ rivalries with each of their divisional foes. Since realignment in 2002, we have played the St. Louis/Los Angeles Rams, San Francisco 49ers, and Seattle Seahawks twice per year. How has the team fared in these rivalries?
Over the next couple weeks, we’ll take a closer look at each rivalry, going over the Cardinals’ record in each, notable streaks, best games, standout players, and looking ahead to the 2019 matchups.
We’ll start with the reigning division (and NFC) champs, and probably the least “heated” of our division rivals: the Los Angeles Rams.
Records and Streaks
Cardinals’ Record Since Realignment: 17-17 (.500)
This has been an up-and-down rivalry, with each franchise going through long stretches of relative futility and success. The Cardinals were down during the Rams’ Greatest Show on Turf years, while the Rams were down when Ken Whisenhunt and Kurt Warner turned the Redbirds into a contender. We also mostly had the better of the rivalry during the Bruce Arians/Carson Palmer years, only for the Rams to again gain the upper hand during the current Sean McVay/Jared Goff era. Add it all up and these teams have played to a standstill in the 17 seasons of the current division alignment.
Current Streak: Lost 4 in a row
The last Cardinals win over the Rams was a 44-6 drubbing in Los Angeles at the tail end of Goff’s rookie year, after Jeff Fisher had been fired midseason. McVay was hired during that offseason and the Rams haven’t looked back since, sweeping the Cardinals in each of the past two seasons. The games haven’t even been close either, with Goff, Todd Gurley, Aaron Donald, and the rest dominating the Cardinals by an aggregate score of 130-25, including two shutouts and the Rams scoring 30+ in each game. That’s about as one-sided as a rivalry gets.
Longest Win Streak: Won 8 in a row from 2006-2010
That said, the Redbirds put a pretty good whuppin’ on the Rams from 2006-2010, beating them by double digits five times and scoring 30+ six times during an 8-game winning streak. These were good years for the Cardinals, with Warner, Larry Fitzgerald, and Anquan Boldin combining for a potent aerial attack during a time in which the Rams were one of the worst teams in the league after the Greatest Show on Turf left town (including winning a combined six games over three seasons between 2007-2009). The Cardinals also won two of the next three games before entering into their own post-Warner doldrums.
Longest Losing Streak: Lost 5 in a row from 2002-2004
You might be surprised to know that it wasn’t Kurt Warner at the helm during this Rams 5-game winning streak but his heir apparent, Marc Bulger, as Warner’s time with the Rams was nearing an end. Of course, Greatest Show on Turf mainstays Marshall Faulk, Isaac Bruce, and Torry Holt were all still around, and all three gave the Cardinals fits. But the Cardinals never really had much of a chance with Jake Plummer, Jeff Blake, and Josh McCown at QB during this streak of futility. With the current losing streak at 4 games, the Cardinals will need to win one of the matchups in 2019 to avoid making this current losing streak the longest since realignment.
Best Games and Players
Best Game: Cardinals 19, Rams 13 (Week 9 of 2011)
The Cardinals/Rams rivalry, such as it is, is not one replete with memorable individual games. Neither team has really been good at the same time, so there are no meaningful late-season contests with true stakes. And while there have been close games, they’ve mostly been meaningless contests between bottom-feeders and/or also-rans. And there have been more than enough blowouts on either side.
So instead, let’s go with this truly bizarre game from an otherwise forgettable season for both teams. Jay Feely and Josh Brown traded field goals for most of the game, with the Rams holding a 9-6 lead in the third quarter. Then things got weird, with John Skelton taking two(!) safeties in a row—one on a sack, the other on intentional grounding—to put the Rams up 13-6 entering the 4th quarter. Skelton would redeem himself, however, hitting Larry Fitzgerald for a 13-yard TD pass to tie the game with under 5:00 left. The game would go to overtime. The Cardinals would stop the Rams on their first OT possession, forcing them to punt to rookie CB Patrick Peterson. Cardinals fans know what happened next. Peterson’s game-winning punt return TD sparked a then 1-6 team to a 7-2 streak to finish the season at .500. Two safeties and a walk-off punt return TD? I think it’s safe to say that’s never happened in any other NFL game.
Cardinals MVP: WR Larry Fitzgerald
As if it could be anyone else. Fitz’s 185 receptions against the Rams are his most against any team and his 18 TDs are tied for most (with the 49ers), while his 2,098 yards are the second-most (behind the 49ers). And don’t forget that Fitz’s first career TD pass came last season against these very Rams. His 2007 season against the Rams was especially bountiful, as he racked up 20 receptions for 307 yards and 3 TDs in two games (both Cardinals wins). Does Larry Legend have one more big game left against the Rams in 2019?
Cardinals Achilles’ Heel: DT Aaron Donald
It shouldn’t be a surprise that the best player in the NFL has also been a thorn in the Cardinals’ side. Donald has been a one-man wrecking crew against the Redbirds since in 10 games since 2014, racking up 27 tackles, 13 for a loss, 9.5 sacks, and 21 QB hits. Three of those sacks and four of those hits came in the same game as Fitz’s TD pass last season. And, given the Cardinals’ lack of top-end talent in the interior of the O-line, expect Donald to continue his domination in 2019.
Week 13 – Home
Week 17 – Away
The Cardinals will have to wait until after their Week 12 bye to get another crack at the Rams and try to end their current 4-game losing streak. They’ll then face them again on the road in the final week of the season. While these matchups add to an exceedingly difficult final stretch of games, perhaps the timing is actually a good thing. The Redbirds will have 12 weeks to acclimate to Kliff Kingsbury’s offense and get Kyler Murray going, so they’ll hopefully be firing on all cylinders and well rested off the bye when the Rams come to town in Week 13. The Rams will also be coming off three consecutive games against 2018 playoff teams (Pittsburgh, Chicago, and Baltimore), so perhaps the timing could be ripe for an upset. And then of course there’s always the chance that the Rams are resting players in Week 17. Plus, Patrick Peterson will (presumably) be in uniform for both matchups, and who knows if Gurley will be healthy. Several things will have to go right, but the potential for at least one upset is there. I smell a split coming in 2019.
Although it might not seem like it right now due to the Rams’ recent upswing combined with the Cardinals’ downturn, this has been an even rivalry since the 2002 realignment. But the Redbirds will have to pull off an upset to keep it that way in 2019 and beyond. Hopefully there will be more meaningful games between these two teams over the next few years, with Kingsbury/Murray helming a similar turnaround for the Cardinals as the McVay/Goff Rams. After all, it’s largely their blueprint that we’re following. Here’s hoping it works.
Next week, we’ll check in on a rivalry with a little more bad blood to it: the San Francisco 49ers. Until then, give us your best Cardinals/Rams memories in the comments. Any players or games stand out to you? Any thoughts on the future of this matchup? You know what to do down below.