Larry Fitzgerald hauls in late score as Cardinals mar Sam Bradford's debut

ST. LOUIS -- The Sam Bradford era began with promise. Then Larry Fitzgerald went and spoiled it.

The Arizona Cardinals' Pro Bowl wide receiver, held in check most of the game after limited work in the preseason because of a knee injury, got loose for a go-ahead 21-yard touchdown catch with 6:13 to play, rescuing a sloppy opener for the two-time defending NFC West champions in a 17-13 victory over the St. Louis Rams on Sunday. The Cardinals lost four fumbles.

"We've got a ways to go," Fitzgerald said. "I've got to get my body together first. We're glad to get a win and get out of here."

Derek Anderson hung in the pocket despite taking a pounding from the St. Louis pass rush that sacked him twice, going 22 for 41 for 297 yards in his first start as the replacement for the retired Kurt Warner. Steve Breaston caught seven passes for a career-best 132 yards, and made a touchdown-saving play in the third quarter that would have put the Rams up by 10 points, stripping defensive lineman Clifton Ryan just short of the end zone after one of the fumbles.

"Plays like that, you don't know what's going to happen and how it's going to affect the game," Breaston said. "You just have to go after the ball in a situation like that."

Tim Hightower and LaRod Stephens-Howling combined for 103 yards rushing for an offense without Beanie Wells (knee), although Hightower lost two fumbles.

Adrian Wilson made three big plays for the Arizona defense to cancel out the offensive miscues, including his second interception to end the game. He's the first player since Julius Peppers in 2004 to get a sack, interception and blocked field goal in the same game.

The 226-pound Wilson described the opening on his block: "It's kind of hard for me to get skinny, but I got skinny and I got in there."

Bradford, selected the starter a week ago after two impressive preseason efforts, was 32 of 55 for 253 yards and three interceptions.

"Obviously, I'm disappointed about the loss," Bradford said. "I thought I handled some things well, didn't handle some things well."

The Rams (0-1) displayed daring on Bradford's 1-yard touchdown pass to Laurent Robinson on the final play of the half to tie it at 10. A sellout crowd was roaring after the Rams took the lead on Josh Brown's chip-shot field goal midway through the third quarter, before St. Louis lost its 14th in a row at home.

The Rams have lost 15 straight to NFC West opponents and eight straight to the Cardinals.

"It was good to have the crowd behind us," running back Steven Jackson said. "It's been a while since we've had that kind of energy in the dome.

"But when a team is making mistakes we have to be able to capitalize on it."

The Cardinals, the two-time defending division champions, had to hold off two late Rams charges.

Kerry Rhodes' interception on fourth-and-10 from the Arizona 21 just after the two-minute warning appeared to be the clincher, but Hightower's fumble gave the Rams another chance that finally fizzled when Wilson intercepted Bradford's last-ditch throw from the Arizona 36 in the end zone as time ran out.

Fitzgerald was held in check by cornerback Ronald Bartell much of the game and had only three receptions for 43 yards. He finally shook free on the touchdown grab with 6:13 to go.

"You can put that one on me," Bartell said.

Breaston's fourth career 100-yard game, and first since 2008, picked up the slack.

Mark Clayton, acquired from the Ravens on Monday, had a career-high 10 receptions for 119 yards for St. Louis.

Arizona had totaled 12 yards rushing before putting together a 76-yard drive, all five plays on rushes, to take a 10-3 lead in the second quarter. Stephens-Howling had two carries for 36 yards and Hightower had a 20-yard carry to the 1 before taking it in the next play.

Wilson's first career block thwarted the Rams after Hightower was stripped on a carry by Oshiomoghe Atogwe on Arizona's first drive. Bradley Fletcher returned the ball 43 yards to the Cardinals 32.

Wilson has 21 1/2 career sacks, 7 1/2 coming against the Rams. He has five career games with a sack and an interception, including two straight games against the Rams.

Arizona wide receiver Early Doucet injured his left groin in the first half and did not return.

Game notes
Fitzgerald has 60 touchdown receptions, tied with Sonny Randle (1959-66) for second on franchise career list. ... In 12 games against the Rams, Fitzgerald has scored 12 touchdowns. ... Rams coach Steve Spagnuolo said LB Chris Chamberlain (left toe) was the team's most serious injury.


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