The Associated Press
ANAHEIM, Calif. Ä BuddyBall was a rousing success Sunday Ä for the Los Angeles Rams, not the Arizona Cardinals.
In beating the Cardinals 14-12 in Buddy Ryan's debut as Arizona's head coach, the opportunistic Rams took advantage of mistakes and played solid defense. That's the formula expected from Ryan-coached teams.
The Cardinals had the ball nearly two-thirds of the game, rolled up 23 first downs to only nine for the Rams, and had 230 yards in total offense to just 152 for Los Angeles.
But Phoenix lost.
"Winning is the name of the game," said a calm Ryan, who was surrounded by reporters. "The bottom line is that we need to finish the plays, and today we didn't. It should have been all over at the half. It looked to me like they (the Rams) were dying and we couldn't kill them.
"I have no question about the team. We have some people on the team who know how to win and have won. It's not like we were playing the Dallas Cowboys out there today."
But Ryan had to praise the Rams' defense.
"They turned the ball over and created some opportunities for their team," he said. "Our defense didn't even turn the ball over. We've got to turn the ball over, that's ridiculous."
The win was the first in a season-opener for the Rams since 1989, while the Cardinals lost for the fourth time in their last five openers.
Turnovers set up both Los Angeles touchdowns, and Arizona's Steve Beuerlein threw an interception the only time the Cardinals threatened in the fourth quarter.
"We'll all enjoy the win, but to be honest, the defense won the game for us," Rams coach Chuck Knox said. "They made play after play after play."
The Rams, 0-4 during a listless preseason, went ahead for good midway through the first quarter when Joe Kelly forced a fumble by Arizona's Larry Centers. Cornerback Todd Lyght caught the ball on the fly and returned it 74 yards for the first touchdown of his NFL career.
"Kelly made a big hit, I saw the ball coming right at me and I just took off," Lyght said. "It was the biggest thrill of my pro career."
Arizona's Greg Davis kicked field goals of 37 and 34 yards in the second period to make it 7-6 at halftime.
Los Angeles extended its lead to eight points early in the third quarter on a 1-yard run by Jerome Bettis, capping a 55-yard, three-play drive that included a 39-yard pass interference penalty against Arizona's James Williams. An interception by Marquez Pope of a pass by Beuerlein set up the TD.
Beuerlein threw a 3-yard touchdown pass to Centers with 1:43 left in the third period, but Beuerlein's pass on a two-point conversion attempt fell incomplete, leaving the Rams ahead by two points, and there was no scoring after that.
The Cardinals drove to the Los Angeles 34 early in the fourth quarter, but Keith Lyle intercepted Beuerlein's pass.
"We were moving the ball, especially in the first half," Beuerlein said, "but we just did not get the ball in the end zone."
Beuerlein completed 18 of 40 passes for 158 yards, with the two costly interceptions. Chris Miller, making his debut at quarterback for the Rams, was 6-of-16 for 131 yards, with one interception.
Bettis, the NFL's second-leading rusher as a rookie last season, gained 52 yards on 21 carries.
"Coming in, I was not expecting a super big day," he said. "I knew they had a great defense. We made some big plays when we needed them. We were just not consistent."
Arizona's Ronald Moore was the game's leading rusher with 65 yards on 13 carries.
The Rams led 7-6 at halftime despite not having a first down until Arizona's Eric Swann jumped offside on third-and-3 from the Los Angeles 17-yard line with 28 seconds left in the half.
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The Rams played before a crowd of 50,588 in their home opener last season and responded, beating Pittsburgh 27-0 for one of their five victories. The smallest Anaheim Stadium crowd before Sunday's 32,969 was on hand last Dec. 26 when 34,155 watched the Rams lose to Cleveland 42-14. Sunday's crowd was actually the smallest to watch a Rams home game since 29,295 watched Los Angeles lose to Washington 37-14 on Sept. 21, 1963 at the Los Angeles Coliseum. That doesn't include a strike game in 1987 when a crowd of 20,218 watched the Rams beat Pittsburgh 31-21. ... Rams offensive tackle Jackie Slater played in his team-record 247th NFL game, most among active players. ... The Rams last won a season-opener in 1989, beating the Falcons 31-21. Chris Miller, who joined the Rams as a free agent during the off-season, was the quarterback for Atlanta that day. ... Lyght's 74-yard fumble return for a touchdown set a Rams record. The old mark was a 54-yard return for a touchdown by Jack Dwyer in 1952. ... Jessie Hester, who caught a 22-yard pass from Miller one play before Jerome Bettis scored in the third quarter, has caught at least one pass in 63 straight games. ... Backup Cardinals cornerback Chris Oldham sprained his left knee in the first quarter and sat out the rest of the game. ... The punting of Sean Landeta was a big factor for the Rams. Landeta averaged 45.3 yards on six punts. The Cardinals ran a total of 76 offensive plays to only 43 for the Rams. Neither team was effective in third-down situations; the Cardinals converted just three of 13 opportunities while the Rams made good on just two of 11 chances. ... Los Angeles was penalized 10 times for 77 yards while Arizona was penalized six times for 84 yards.
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