BY JIM THOMAS
ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH
11/23/2009

For the second week in a row, the Rams were positioned for a possible upset against one of the NFC's best teams.

After spotting the Arizona Cardinals a 21-3 halftime lead, the Rams had narrowed the gap to eight points, and with 4 minutes to play had a first down at the Arizona 13. A touchdown and a 2-point conversion would tie it up. But instead of making lemonade out of a bad situation, the Rams were stuck with lemons. Once again.

Losing for the 10th consecutive time at home, the Rams fell to 1-9 this season with a 21-13 loss Sunday at the Edward Jones Dome. Overcoming a horrible first half, the Rams made the most of Kurt Warner's departure just before halftime with concussion-related symptoms.

Had Warner stayed in the game, the Cardinals might have put 40-plus points on the Rams. But backup quarterback Matt Leinart is no Warner, and the Rams were able to claw their way back into the game. Instead of a blowout loss, the Rams dropped their fourth game of the year by eight points or fewer.


"We keep getting close, but we have to get there," center Jason Brown said. "Close isn't good enough. We have to get there."

The Rams couldn't get there. And they couldn't get a call. A call that was made and one that wasn't by referee Bill Leavy's crew didn't help matters in the closing minutes.

On first down from the 13, a penalty was called against a Rams offensive lineman for unnecessary roughness following an incomplete pass by Marc Bulger.

Before you say: What did Richie Incognito do this time? ... Incognito didn't dress, missing his third consecutive game with a foot injury.

No, the penalty was against Adam Goldberg, about the last player one might suspect for such an infraction. Goldberg plays hard, but clean, never loses his cool and is one of the Rams' brightest players. It's safe to say Goldberg wasn't expecting a flag.

"I was extremely surprised," Goldberg said. "Anybody that knows me knows I'm not a cheap player. I think that's my first-ever personal foul in my seven-year career. But he made the call and I have to live with it. That's the world I live in.

"I apologize to my guys for putting us behind the 8-ball down-and-distance wise, and I think they all understand. They know me. They know I wouldn't do anything that stupid. They understand I couldn't see the ball gone."

Referee Bill Leavy, who threw the flag, obviously saw it differently.

"(Goldberg) knocked the defender down well after the pass was released, and in my judgment, unnecessarily hit the player after the ball had been gone," Leavy told a pool reporter.

Goldberg had his back to Bulger while blocking, so he didn't see the ball come out. The 15-yard penalty backed up the Rams to the 28. St. Louis made it back to the 7, but Bulger couldn't connect on two fade patterns to the left corner of the end zone the first to Brandon Gibson on third and 4, and the next to Donnie Avery on fourth down.

There appeared to be plenty of contact between Avery and cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromarite on the fourth-down pass. But there was no flag.

"My field judge (Clete Blakeman) said that the contact was incidental," Leavy said. "No restrictive contact (was made), and not enough to call a foul."

If Avery was upset with the call, he didn't show it after the game.

"It's something I can't call," Avery said. "We leave it up to the refs. That's it about that. We were going back and forth, so it could have been called both ways."

Arizona took over, and by the time the Rams got the ball back at their 26 following an Arizona punt, only 61 seconds remained and they were out of timeouts. Bulger was knocked woozy by Big Red defensive tackle Darnell Dockett for a sack on first down. Two incompletions and an unsuccessful fourth-down scramble, and it was over.

Arizona (7-3) had won its sixth in a row over St. Louis, and the Rams had fallen to 4-23 against the NFC West since the start of the 2005 season.

"It's disappointing to lose, especially another close game where we're knocking on the door," coach Steve Spagnuolo said. "I am proud of one thing the way we came out in the second half. That I know is a good thing. They were fiery in the locker room at halftime. They were determined to do something when we were down 21-3."

The St. Louis defense gave up an astounding 327 yards in the first half. When Warner wasn't working his magic to Arizona receivers, the Cardinals were gouging the Rams on the ground. The Big Red managed only 117 yards in the second half, but even Spagnuolo acknowledged that the departure of Warner had something to do with that.

"I mean, let's face it. Any team that loses their starting quarterback, it's tough," he said. "You haven't practiced with the second guy all week."

And Arizona's "first guy" isn't your run of the mill quarterback. Warner was at his best Sunday, throwing completions into tight coverage and delivering the ball in the face of pressure. "He's been doing it for the last 12 years, and that's why he's one of the best," safety Oshiomogho Atogwe said.