Linebacker Thomas Howard ran 29 yards for a touchdown with a first-quarter fumble as the St. Louis Cardinals, stung by turnovers for the past month, capitalized on New England mistakes and rolled to a 33-10 victory over the Patriots today.
That kept St. Louis (8-6) within one game of first place in the NFC East. New England (8-6) was left with slim hopes for an AFC wild-card playoff berth.
"We have met the enemy and he is us," said the Patriots' coach, Raymond Berry. "Our enthusiasm was extremely good but our execution was extremely poor and you don't overcome execution with enthusiasm."
The Cardinals committed 19 turnovers in their last four games, threw of them losses. But they turned fumble recoveries into 10 points today to take a 17-3 lead before making it 27-3 by halftime.
Neil Lomax led St. Louis on a 15-play, 72-yard drive on the opening series, ending it with a one-yard touchdown pass to Doug Marsh.
On the fifth play of New England's first possession, linebacker E.J. Junior forced Craig James to fumble. Howard scooped up the ball and gave the Cardinals a 14-0 lead with 11:24 gone in the game.
Tony Franklin made it 14-3 with a 19-yard field goal after James' 73-yard run to the three. But James fumbled again on the Patriots' next series, the first play after Irving Fryar ran back a punt 43 yards to the St. Louis 30. Benny Perrin returned the fumble 16 yards to the St. Louis 45 and the Cardinals got to New England's 19 before settling for Neil O'Donoghue's 36-yard field goal.
He later kicked a 33-yarder, and Ottis Anderson, who rushed 30 times for 136 yards, scored on a two-yard run 14 seconds before intermission.
After New England's Rod McSwain recovered Stump Mitchell's fumble on a punt return, Tony Eason, who was sacked eight times, threw an 11-yard scoring pass to Lin Dawson early in the third period.
But Mitchell's four-yard scoring run made it 33-10 early in the last quarter.
The Patriots rushed for just 87 yards, compared to the Cardinals' 220, but held a 191 to 92 advantage in passing yardage despite several dropped balls.