Faulk rushed for 128 yards on 22 carries to lead the St. Louis Rams to a 17-10 victory over the Arizona Cardinals on Sunday. Despite two knee operations in the last year, the 31-year-old running back’s steady play helped the Rams overcome three costly turnovers that kept the game close.
Faulk, who has missed 11 games in the last two seasons, shared time with Rams first-round pick Steven Jackson, but it was clear who was getting most of the attention.
“He had an outstanding coming-out party,” Jackson said. “And I think he answered a lot of questions about his knee.”
Smith, the NFL’s career leading rusher, also had a resurgent game, running for 87 yards on 16 carries, including an 11-yard touchdown run that put the Cardinals ahead 10-9 in the final minute of the third quarter. Smith, 35, was limited to only 256 yards last year due to injuries.
“Emmitt is a great back, a guy that I idolize, a guy that gets it done,” Faulk said. “If you look at him out there you wonder, ‘What’s he doing playing?’ He makes things happen.”
Smith took no solace in his effectiveness because the Cardinals lost.
“The way I see it, it wasn’t that good of a game,” Smith said. “When you turn the ball over three times, there’s no way that team that turned the ball over should be winning the game.”
Jackson also played well in his debut, shaking off a lost fumble on his first career carry after a 14-yard gain. Jackson, the first running back taken in the draft, finished with 50 yards on seven carries.
“I don’t have to play the whole game now and all the pressure of the running game isn’t on me,” Faulk said. “It’s kind of a nice change-up when I come out to have him go in there.”
The Rams beat the Cardinals for the fifth straight time and sent Arizona to its 14th straight road loss, but did it the hard way. Each of the turnovers came deep in Arizona territory, and they also ran out of gas at the Arizona 10 and 4, settling for field goals by Jeff Wilkins.
Faulk’s 39th career 100-yard game featured four gains of 10 or more yards. After only 14 preseason carries for 38 yards to prepare for his 11th season, Faulk signaled he was ready when he jitterbugged for a 15-yard gain on his first carry. He has 11,341 yards rushing and passed O.J. Simpson for 13th place.
Faulk also scored on a 2-point conversion run to give the Rams a seven-point cushion after Marc Bulger hit Isaac Bruce for an 8-yard touchdown for the winning score with 14:27 to go. Bruce rolled the last few yards into the end zone.
The touchdown came two plays after a 95-yard interception return by James Darling was nullified by a defensive holding call on LeVar Woods. The line had scrimmage had been the Arizona 13, although Cardinals coach Dennis Green thought Woods’ contact on intended receiver Brandon Manumaleuna was legal.
“The contact took place within 5 yards so it’s up to you guys to recognize the interpretation of the rules,” Green said. “Inside of 5 yards you can pretty much do anything except an illegal act.”
The Rams outgained the Cardinals 229-134 in total offense in the first half, but had only a pair of field goals to show for it. In addition to Jackson’s fumble, wide receiver Dane Looker fumbled after a catch and Bulger was intercepted by Quentin Harris at the Arizona 2.
Bulger, 19-4 as the Rams’ starting quarterback, was 23-for-34 for 272 yards. His main target was Bruce, who caught nine catches for 112 yards.
The Cardinals had no sacks against a rebuilt line led by tackle Orlando Pace, who had only four practices to prepare for the opener after agreeing to a one-year contract last Sunday.
McCown, beginning his first year as the Cardinals’ starting quarterback, was 18-for-29 for 181 yards.
Wilkins became the Rams’ career leading scorer with 797 points, breaking a tie with Mike Lansford. He also hit his 13th career field goal of 50 or more yards, extending his team record. … Rams LB Pisa Tinoisamoa played most of the game after dislocating his right shoulder early in the second quarter, but Martz said he could miss a few weeks. … Rams rookie DE Anthony Hargrove sustained a mild concussion on the opening kickoff and backup LB Trev Faulk tore a hamstring.