With a loaded defense and a rejuvenated Matthew Stafford leading a talented offense, the Los Angeles Rams emerged early as favorites to win a brutal NFC West.
The Arizona Cardinals have other ideas.
In a battle of 3-0 teams with first place on the line, it was the Cardinals who came out on top Sunday in overwhelming fashion. Led by quarterback Kyler Murray and a defense that frustrated and flustered Stafford, the Cardinals improved to 4-0 with a 37-20 win.
The Cardinals opened things up with a 17-point second quarter to take a 24-13 lead into halftime. After the break, they dominated. James Conner's second touchdown of the day late in the third quarter gave the Cardinals a 34-13 lead. When the Rams failed to score on their next possession after facing third-and-goal at the one-yard line, the game was effectively over.
Cardinals snap dubious streak
The win exorcised a four-year run of Rams dominance in the series that saw Arizona lose eight straight games to its division rival. It also introduced the Cardinals as a serious threat to win a division heralded as the NFL's toughest — to those who weren't previously paying attention, at least.
The Cardinals, helmed by a third-year quarterback in Murray and a third-year head coach in Kliff Kingsbury, were widely projected as young upstarts who would have to wait their turn for at least one more season in a seasoned NFC West. But any doubts about their 3-0 start were put to rest with Sunday' dominant victory.
Can Cardinals win NFC West?
While the Cardinals shone on offense, it was their defense that made the most emphatic statement, limiting Stafford to 280 yards with two touchdowns and an interception on a 26-of-41 (63.1%) passing effort. The box score looked better than than his play as he secured his second touchdown on a 75-yard garbage-time drive in the game's final minutes. Stafford looked nothing like the MVP candidate who emerged in the season's first three weeks while facing regular pressure and missing open targets against the Cardinals.
Murray, meanwhile, was efficient and effective, tallying 268 yards and two touchdowns without an interception while completing 24-of-32 (75%) pass attempts. Arizona did the bulk of its damage on the ground, where Chase Edmonds tallied 120 yards on 10 runs, including a late 54-yard gash of the Rams defense on third down to escape the shadow of the Arizona goalpost. Conner added 50 yards and the two scores on the ground, while Murray collected 39 yards on six carries.
It was the type of balanced effort befitting the now first-place team in the NFL's most competitive division. The Cardinals lead the 3-1 Rams by one game and hold a two-game edge over the Seahawks and 49ers, who are both 2-2 after Seattle upended San Francisco Sunday afternoon.
The Cardinals face a chance to extend their lead next week with a home matchup against the 49ers. The Rams face a short week to regroup before visiting the Seahawks Thursday night.