Austin Davis not the answer for Rams at QB

GLENDALE, Ariz. --The harsh reality of playing quarterback in the NFL might not have been apparent to the St. Louis Rams' Austin Davis after his first start or his second or even his fifth.

But the past two weeks have served as a reminder that Davis has one of the toughest jobs in sports, a job that he simply isn't capable of doing at a level that will lead his team to wins on a consistent basis. Whether that's a permanent condition or not remains to be seen but the evidence seemed to be piling up against him in Sunday's 31-14 loss to the Arizona Cardinals.

After managing the game and coming up with a big play or two along the way for the first three quarters of a game the Rams led into the fourth quarter, Davis was once again unable to avoid the type of costly mistakes that have dotted his first eight NFL starts.

A lead that sat at 14-10 in the fourth quarter quickly turned into 21 unanswered points for the Cardinals, 14 of which fell out of the hands of Davis. He threw two interceptions to Arizona cornerback Patrick Peterson, one of which Peterson returned 30 yards for a game-sealing touchdown, and coughed up a fumble that Cardinals cornerback Antonio Cromartie picked up and returned 14 yards for the final margin.

"I didn’t play well enough to win today," Davis said. "I think the thing I’m learning really quick is you can play well for three and a half quarters but you’ve got to play four. You can’t have a single letdown and right now I’m having those and it’s costing our football team. I’ve got to stay the course, stay strong and keep getting better and eliminate these mistakes, mainly turnovers, that are costing our football team."

To be sure, Davis' struggles in Sunday's game weren't limited to the fourth quarter. He struggled to identify the many exotic blitz packages the Cardinals threw at him and he got little help from his offensive line and wide receivers along the way. Despite those issues, Davis and the Rams were poised to pull off the upset until the costly fourth-quarter turnovers.

On the first, Davis had receiver Chris Givens running a deep route against Peterson. Givens actually had created some space and a strong, accurate throw might have even gone for a touchdown to get the Rams the lead back after the defense surrendered a long touchdown pass to give Arizona a 17-14 lead.

As Davis stepped up, he was unable to get enough on the throw and Peterson settled under it for an easy interception. It was the second week in a row in which Davis badly underthrew a pass that was intercepted.

"I just underthrew the ball," Davis said. "I don't really have an answer for it. I don't understand it. We got the look we were looking for, I thought Chris ran a good route and won, the ball didn't go where I wanted it to."

The Rams survived that interception as the defense got the ball back with a quick three-and-out but Davis' next mistake was far more costly. Looking for receiver Kenny Britt on a short crossing route, Davis fired it a little too high and though Britt should have caught it, the pass would qualify as catchable but not accurate.

Peterson was again there to secure the mistake and return it for the score that made it 24-14 and, for all intents and purposes, end the game.

"The second one, I just threw it high and it gets tipped around," Davis said. "Two critical plays, you can't turn the football over. We knew coming in that was kind of their thing. They kind of live off the turnover and you saw it there at the end."

For Davis, the fourth-string-quarterback-turned-starter, costly turnovers have been all too familiar this season. He has nine interceptions on the season with four of those turning into immediate points via a return for touchdown. He also has a pair of fumbles that have been returned for touchdowns. Making those numbers hurt worse is the fact that six of Davis' nine interceptions have come in the fourth quarter, including all four of the pick-sixes.

In nine games, Davis' fourth-quarter passer rating is 68.1 with a QBR of 23.8, which includes a 12.0 and 0.1 on Sunday.

"It can't happen," Davis said. "It's killing our defense. They're playing their tails off. For me to have those letdowns, it's really tough. I've got to get a lot better and I can't do that."

In terms of intangibles, Davis checks every box for what a starting NFL quarterback should be. But intangibles don't score points or win games. While he's done enough to earn a backup job moving forward, it's probably best to put away any hopes that he can be the Rams' long-term answer at the game's most important position.