Give the Cardinals credit for originality. Ten yards from a game-winning touchdown in the waning seconds, it was not an incomplete pass that sealed a 17-12 loss to the St. Louis Rams on Sunday at Sun Devil Stadium, but a false start penalty — a flag that by rule cost the Cards their final seven seconds of hope.
So the players trudged off the turf unable to determine the game for themselves, an ugly reminder of just how bad the offense has been in the red zone. The Cardinals, after an offseason of expectations and playoff talk, are 0-2.
"Ain’t nobody going to give us (expletive)," defensive end Chike Okeafor said. "We have to take it and we have to realize that. We have to be disciplined, we have to be consistent. That’s what winning teams do, that’s what champions do — be consistent.
"Man, we ain’t going about it the right way. We made too many errors. We’re kidding ourselves if we think that’s the making of a champion."
In a way, the Cardinals have been consistent — consistently unable to score touchdowns.
Defensively, the Cards were fine against the Rams (1-1), holding St. Louis to 297 yards of offense and only 17 points.
But it wasn’t enough, not when the Cards settled for field goals after reaching the St. Louis 11-yard line, the 1 and the 8.
Then came the clincher — the drive for the miracle ending that instead fizzled.
Taking over at Arizona’s 14 with 1:53 left, quarterback Kurt Warner completed six straight passes, including two in a row to Anquan Boldin that brought Arizona to the Rams’ 5-yard line with 27 seconds left. The Cardinals were out of timeouts when Warner took the next snap, and blitzing Rams safety Adam Archuleta buried Warner for a 5-yard loss.
"I think we had to make something happen," Archuleta said. "We couldn’t give him time with the ball."
The Cardinals seemed confused following the sack. Warner said Arizona changed personnel during the drive and had to "change gears" to find the right play. Rookie tight end Adam Bergen seemed to be asking Warner questions while the clock wound down.
By the time the Cards were lined up only seven seconds remained. Before the snap, however, left tackle Leonard Davis moved. By rule, an offensive penalty in the final minute of a game — if that team does not have a timeout left — means 10 seconds are run off the clock.
In this case, it meant game over.
Davis, who was also flagged for a personal foul at the beginning of the drive, was unavailable for comment after the game. A team spokesman said he was getting an IV.
"(The end) was kind of fitting with how the game went," said Warner, who completed 29-of-42 passes for 327 yards but threw an interception and fumbled twice.
The running game, with Marcel Shipp playing in place of the ill J.J. Arrington, was a little bit better. Shipp ran for 54 yards on 12 carries, although the Cards tried to run only 16 times during the game.
Only twice did Arizona try to run while inside the Rams’ 20, for 1 yard. The Cardinals also botched an exchange at the Rams’ 1 between Warner and center Alex Stepanovich.
"When they’d get down to the red zone we had some great red zone defense," Rams defensive end Leonard Little said. "That was the big difference in the game."
The Cardinals were expected to be stronger defensively than offensively this season. Whether that chasm eventually finds its way inside the locker room is a legitimate concern.
Cardinals coach Dennis Green praised his defense for coming up with stops from the middle of the third quarter on. The effort — which included four sacks of Rams quarterback Marc Bulger and one interception — should have been enough.
"It’s frustrating for the whole team," Green said. "When we don’t score, everyone is affected by it."
Now comes a trip to Seattle, where the Cardinals have struggled. Optimism once reigned, but two weeks into the season, the Cards already find themselves alone at the bottom of the NFC West.
"All I know," fullback Obafemi Ayanbadejo said, "is that it’s going to be hard to sleep tonight."