|Arizona Cardinals running back Beanie Wells, right, carries the ball as St. Louis Rams defensive back Josh Gordy pursues during the third quarter of an NFL football game on Sunday, Nov. 27, 2011, in St. Louis. (AP Photo/L.G. Patterson)|
Wells carries Cardinals past Rams 23-20
ST. LOUIS—No way Patrick Peterson thought he'd get another chance to return a punt for the Cardinals against St. Louis.
Peterson tied the NFL record with his fourth punt return for a touchdown this season, three weeks after his 99-yarder in overtime beat the Rams, and Arizona won its seventh in a row in St. Louis with a 23-20 victory Sunday.
"I was actually very, very surprised," Peterson said. "I just told the guys to be patient, that we'd get one sooner or later."
Teammate Beanie Wells was seeking redemption, not a franchise record, after his fumble led to the Rams tying the score. He set the mark for the Cardinals with 228 yards rushing on 27 carries, including gains of 71 and 53 yards. The latter set up Jay Feely's go-ahead 22-yard field goal with 4:12 remaining on the possession after his turnover.
Wells aggravated a lingering right knee injury on the fumble but couldn't wait to get back out there. He set the record with a 14-yard gain to the Rams 34 on the game's next to last play, capping his third career 100-yard performance and the Cardinals' third win in four weeks.
"I knew the team needed me -- I was the one who put us in that situation in the first place when I lost the ball," Wells said.
Rookie Sam Acho also had a career day on defense with two sacks and a fumble recovery.
That was enough for Arizona (4-7) to overcome another awful outing by John Skelton, who was 12 for 23 for 114 yards with two interceptions. Skelton had a passer rating of 30, one week after going just 6 for 19 for 99 yards with no touchdowns and three interceptions.
"It was obvious they were going to try and stop us from throwing the football, which was a surprise to me," coach Ken Whisenhunt said.
Brandon Lloyd's 16-yard TD catch from Sam Bradford tied it at 20 midway through the fourth quarter. Nick Miller had an 88-yard punt return for a touchdown in the first for the Rams (2-9) only three days after he re-signed with the team.
Peterson was untouched on an 80-yard return in the third quarter, dodging just a few tacklers before finding clear sailing to put Arizona up 20-10.
Sunday's game is the first in NFL history in which each team had returned a punt 80 yards or more for a touchdown.
St. Louis coach Steve Spagnuolo had vowed that the rookie would not beat the Rams again.
Except for that one costly exception, Donnie Jones did a good job of directional punting.
"I mishit it down the middle of the field," Jones said. "So I'll take the blame on that one."
Peterson is the fourth player with four punt returns in a season and the first in NFL history with four returns of 80-plus yards. The cornerback from LSU was the fifth pick in the draft.
Wells was an even bigger factor, eclipsing the previous franchise mark of 214 yards by LeShon Johnson in 1996 at New Orleans. In the earlier meeting against the Rams, Wells had just 20 yards on 10 carries.
The Rams are the worst in the NFL against the run. But they'd been much improved in four games since surrendering 253 yards to the Cowboys' DeMarco Murray, holding two opponents to fewer than 100 yards.
"Very, very disappointing," defensive end Chris Long said. "We showed we could shut that team down in the running game."
Acho has five sacks, three against the Rams. His fumble recovery set up Wells' 7-yard scoring run midway through the third quarter.
The Cardinals overcame three turnovers to keep their dominance going in St. Louis, the town they fled for the desert in 1987. It's their longest road winning streak against any opponent. They're only 2-5 on the road this year.
The Rams re-signed Miller on Thursday after placing wide receiver Mark Clayton on injured reserve with a knee injury. He gave them the lead on their only big play of the first half, skirting the defense and scoring untouched with a convoy the last 30 yards of the return.
Notes: The other players with four punt returns for a TD are Devin Hester (2007), Rick Upchurch (1978) and Jack Christiansen (1951), who was a rookie when he first set the record. ... Wells has a career-best eight touchdowns rushing, one more than his rookie year in 2009. ... Wearing a No. 1 Rams jersey, St. Louis hip hop artist Nelly participated in the coin toss. ... Miller's punt return for a TD was the Rams' first since an 85-yarder by Dante Hall on Sept. 30, 2007 at Dallas.