Associated Press

ST. LOUIS - The St. Louis Rams' first road victory in seven games went down to the wire, and coach Mike Martz knows he's to blame.

Martz, known for his high-flying offenses, admitted he went into a shell preserving a five-point lead in the fourth quarter of a 17-12 victory over the Arizona Cardinals on Sunday. He said he ignored weaknesses in the Arizona pass defense that would have allowed the Rams to build a late cushion, instead counting on a defense that did not allow a touchdown to finish the job.

"I did get real conservative at the end of the game and I kind of regret it," Martz said Monday. "That's probably more on me in terms of play selection than in terms of anything else."

The Rams, determined to eat up minutes after Neil Rackers kicked his fourth field goal for Arizona with 6:59 to go, produced only one first down in their last two possessions to give the Cardinals two opportunities at playing catch-up. The second possession started at the Rams 46 after a 14-yard punt return by Shaun McDonald, but two Steven Jackson runs netted 2 yards and a third-down dumpoff from Marc Bulger to Marshall Faulk went for only 2 yards followed by another punt that gave the Cardinals the ball at their own 14 with 1:53 to go.

St. Louis needed a sack from blitzing safety Adam Archuleta combined with poor clock management by the Cardinals and a false start penalty with seven seconds left on Cardinals tackle Leonard Davis that ended the game with Arizona on the St. Louis 10.

Martz said he should have given Bulger more opportunity to give the Rams some breathing room but reasoned that the Cardinals would have to go the distance against a defense that had played well the entire game even though the Cardinals outgained St. Louis 359-297 in total yards. His play-calling, he said, was not in playoff form.

"I didn't give him many chances, to be honest with you," Martz said. "The last couple of weeks I've been struggling. I got into this game and I didn't like our game plan.

"It was a good plan to throw it; we could have thrown it every snap."

Bulger was 18-for-29 for 216 yards with one touchdown and an interception. Last week, he noted, he threw for 362 yards while going 34-for-56 in a 28-25 loss at San Francisco.

"Obviously, we got the numbers last week and we lost," Bulger said. "Defense wins games, and I'm not going to sit here and pick apart stats."

Martz said the Rams could have closed the game out anyway were it not for some blown assignments. Jackson had 93 yards on 18 carries and a 7-yard scoring run and wanted the chance to put the team on his back down the stretch.

"Steven was anxious to have the load on him and he was going so good," Martz said. "We just had a couple of broken assignments inside where I think we would have had some real good runs to break out there."

The Rams held Kurt Warner in check on defense despite playing it straight most of the game. A secondary riddled with injuries and minus both cornerbacks at one point convinced defensive coordinator Larry Marmie to try to beat the Cardinals without trying anything fancy.

"We're trying to establish our character and our identity," Archuleta said. "This was a great game, especially for our defense."

St. Louis was particularly strong in the interior line. Tackles Jimmy Kennedy and Ryan Pickett each had two sacks and the third tackle, Damione Lewis, forced two penalties.

All three are first-round picks on a unit that previously has been a bit of a disappointment.

"Oh goodness sakes, there's no comparisons," Martz said. "Our defensive front is light years ahead of where they were a year ago."