MEXICO CITY – The NFL threw a fiesta at Azteca Stadium, and the biggest regular-season crowd in league history turned up wearing vibrant colors and singing raucous cheers.

Mexico’s 103,467 fans created a thrilling atmosphere at the league’s first regular-season game outside the United States – even though the Arizona Cardinals’ 31-14 victory over the San Francisco 49ers wasn’t exactly the most savory version of “futbol americano.”

Josh McCown passed for a career-high 385 yards and two touchdowns against the Niners’ pathetic pass defense, and Neil Rackers kicked a career-best six field goals through the 7,700-foot air.

But the sloppy play and one-sided result in a game between two of the NFL’s worst teams seemed secondary to the goodwill and international exposure of a foreign venture the league hopes to turn into an annual affair.

The cavernous arena was packed to the rafters with a crowd that exceeded the league’s most optimistic projections two days ago, proving the sport’s avid following in Mexico is second to none outside the United States.

The Cardinals (1-3) agreed to give up a home game to make history, and the NFC West rivals played in front of 68,398 more fans than they drew for last season’s meeting at Sun Devil Stadium. The crowd topped the previous NFL record for a regular-season game, when 102,368 fans saw the Los Angeles Rams play the 49ers at the L.A. Coliseum on Nov. 10, 1957.

Derek Smith and Derrick Johnson scored on fumble recoveries for San Francisco (1-3) in the first quarter, with Smith scoring on the game’s first play and Johnson returning his 78 yards. But Arizona scored the rest of the night’s points, with Larry Fitzgerald and Anquan Boldin making tough catches for scores as the Cardinals avenged two overtime losses to the NFL’s worst team last year.

Rackers loved the mountain air in a city 2,000 feet higher than Denver, connecting from 40, 45, 48, 23, 43 and 24 yards to fall one short of the NFL record for field goals in a game, held by four players.

AP-ES-10-03-05 0003EDT


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