GLENDALE, Ariz. -- The Los Angeles Rams have forced their way into the conversation.
They arrived at University of Phoenix Stadium on Sunday afternoon to play a desperate, supremely talented team on the road and came away with a 17-13 victory, once again defying the odds in what has become a storybook start to their return out west. The Rams are now 3-1, in first place in the NFC West after locking up victories against the Seattle Seahawks and, now, the Arizona Cardinals, the two teams widely expected to finish at the top of their division.
"Huge," said Rams coach Jeff Fisher, who only three weeks earlier was trying to rally a team that had been shutout to start its season.
"We know what type of talent we’ve got; we know what type of players we’ve got," defensive tackle Aaron Donald added. "We knew we just had to stay together, get better."
Las Vegas odds-makers pegged the Rams as 9 1/2-point underdogs in Week 4, while ESPN's FPI had the Cardinals as the week's biggest favorites, even though they entered with a 1-2 record. But thanks to a defense that forced five turnovers and a late drive that put them on top, the Rams claimed three wins in their first four games for only the second time in 15 years.
Trailing, 13-10, after giving away a multitude of chances to take control of the game on offense, the Rams finally got the spark they needed late.
Donald and Eugene Sims combined for a sack of Cardinals quarterback Carson Palmer with less than six minutes remaining, forcing Palmer to exit and the Cardinals to punt. Tavon Austin returned it 47 yards and gave the Rams the ball at the Cardinals' 19-yard line after a face mask was assessed to Ifeanyi Momah. Todd Gurley then found a way to grab a first down, catching a quick out and gaining the necessary extra yardage after barely avoiding going out of bounds.
Two plays later, Brian Quick made a leaping grab on a fade route in the end zone.
It was his second touchdown of the game after giving the Rams their first score with a 65-yard catch in the first quarter -- seven days after a 44-yard touchdown catch on the first drive at Tampa Bay.
"We knew they were going to run man coverage," Quick said of his last score. "The coaches made a great call, man, and Case made a hell of a throw to the sideline."
It was Barron's second interception in as many games and the defense's second of three on the afternoon. There was also a leaping catch in the end zone from Trumaine Johnson. And a fumble forced by backup defensive lineman Dominique Easley. And a sack-fumble caused by Donald. And another interception from T.J. McDonald with no time left, on a desperation heave to the end zone from Stanton.
"We responded," Johnson, who came within inches of a second interception right before McDonald's pick, said of the secondary. "We kept everything in front of us. That was the whole plan this week."
The Rams' defense has carried the team to three straight wins, but the offense has progressively played better, even while Gurley -- 19 carries for only 33 yards in Week 4 -- waits to get going on the ground.
The Rams have gone 12-for-27 on third down over the past two games, after going 6-for-27 in the first two. Keenum lost a fumble and missed some throws he should've made, but finished 18-of-30 for 266 yards, two touchdowns and zero interceptions. Say what you want about Keenum, say what you want about the Rams -- they're 3-1 through the season's first quarter.
They're worthy of your attention.
"It’s not really showing somebody else; it’s proving to ourselves that we can go out there and play with anybody," middle linebacker Alec Ogletree said. "We have a team that’s capable of winning a lot of games. We just have to believe that each and every week."