Jared Cook's big day for the St. Louis Rams almost wasn't.
Quarterback Sam Bradford found Cook sprinting down the seam on the Rams' second drive of the game. It was the second time Bradford went to Cook, and his first complete pass to the tight end. The play was exactly what the Rams had done in the preseason, something the team hadn't been able to do in years, taking advantage of soft spots in coverage over the middle.
Cook raced to the end zone. Five yards from the goal line, it slipped away; it was punched away actually.
"He's got a running 40 to the end zone," head coach Jeff Fisher said after the game. "You've got to remind him every so often that you always have to carry that ball high and tight because you never know when something's going to happen.
"I think he assumed he was going to score."
Arizona rookie cornerback Tyrann Mathieu pulled off Tavon Austin and chased Cook down. He didn't quite catch up to make the tackle, but he didn't need to. Cook had the ball leisurely dangling to his left side. Mathieu punched it out of his hands before Cook could put the Rams up 7-0.
The Cardinals got the ball on their 20-yard line. From there, Carson Palmer and his receivers ate up the mile-wide cushions given to them by the Rams defensive backs. Eight plays, 80 yards and just over three minutes later, the Cardinals had a 14-point swing on the scoreboard, scoring first to take a 7-0 lead.
"That's never something you want to happen," Cook said. "I wish I could have that one back and I still wish I could have it back after that type of game. It's just a battle of mistakes that you come back from. It's part of the game. He made a good play."
The Rams tight end did bounce back from the fumble. Bradford wasn't about to let his top target replay the mistake over and over in his head.
"We came to the sideline and I said, 'Hey bro, be ready because it's coming right back to you,'" Bradford said. "Yeah, I thought he did a great job because it would have been really easy for him to get down right there, but he showed a ton of maturity and confidence coming back and playing the way he did after that."
Bradford found Cook six more times after the fumble, including a pair of touchdowns that helped the Rams overcome a second-half deficit.
"We've seen him do it all training camp," Bradford said. "so I don't think it surprised anyone, and I expect him to keep playing like that. He's going to help us tremendously this year."
Cook finished the game with seven catches on 10 targets, 141 receiving yards and two touchdowns. It was the first time in his career that he scored more than once in a game. It was the second-highest yardage total of his career, and tied for the third-most receptions in a single game.
"That's why he's here," Fisher said. "We've got an accurate passer that can find him and he can make plays with the ball. He's outstanding."