GLENDALE, Ariz. • The Rams’ Lost Decade of football is now officially a full decade. As a result of Sunday’s 30-10 loss to Arizona the Rams (5-8) can do no better than 8-8 for 2013, and that’s only if they sweep their remaining three games against New Orleans, Tampa Bay and Seattle.
(Best of luck with that.)
So that makes 10 consecutive seasons without a winning record for St. Louis, dating back to the team’s last division championship in 2003.
“We’re gonna get better,” said a grim Jeff Fisher afterward. “We’re gonna take it one game at a time and we’re gonna get better.”
Win, lose, or draw, Fisher’s consistent theme to the team has always been improvement every week. But that didn’t happen against the Cardinals, who outgained the Rams by more than 100 yards, had an edge of more than 10 minutes in time of possession and saw only five passes by quarterback Carson Palmer — questionable before the game with a sore elbow — hit the ground incomplete.
On the other side of the ball, Arizona shut down Zac Stacy and the Rams’ running game and pounded quarterback Kellen Clemens more than anyone has in his six starts this season.
“I thought today as a team, we took a step back,” defensive end Chris Long said. “It’s nothing we can’t fix. But we took a step back as a team in our performance, and that’s not OK with us. Hats off to the Cardinals. They did a good job today and we didn’t make enough plays.”
Trailing 7-3 early in the second quarter, it looked like the Rams had made a huge play, when safety Rodney McLeod knocked the ball loose from Big Red tight end Jim Dray near the goal line. Janoris Jenkins scooped up the fumble and was racing downfield for an apparent touchdown.
But the play had been blown dead by referee Walt Coleman’s crew because the Palmer completion to Dray originally was ruled a touchdown.
“I didn’t hear a whistle until Jenkins was already halfway down the field,” McLeod said. “That’s when I heard the whistle. One of the refs mentioned that he was gonna call it a fumble. But you’ve just got to live with the calls, and play the next snap. That could’ve been a game-changer.”
All scoring plays are reviewed, and this review showed that the ball was clearly knocked out by McLeod shy of the goal line and before Dray was down. Because the play was blown dead, Jenkins got no credit for any return yardage. And because Jenkins picked up the fumble in the end zone, it was ruled a touchback.
If that weren’t tough enough for the Rams to swallow, Eugene Sims was flagged for a personal foul on the play for going after Palmer. As a result of the penalty, the Rams started at their 10 instead of the 20. Replays simply showed Sims merely blocking Palmer as Jenkins was running down the field with the recovered fumble.
“I thought it was a fumble and a live play,” Sims said. “I was just trying to make a block for my teammate (Jenkins) to get it in the end zone. When I looked back, I saw the flag and really didn’t think it was on me.”
When the teams met at Arizona last year, Jenkins had two interception returns for TDs — the difference in a 31-17 victory. This time around, a quick whistle prevented him from scoring yet another defensive TD against Arizona.
“It is what it is,” Jenkins said. “The referee thought it was dead, so ...”
So the misery continues. Since opening the season with a 27-24 victory at home against Arizona, the Rams have gone 0-for-the-NFC West, losing to San Francisco (twice), Seattle and now Arizona by a combined score of 102-43.
For those still keeping track, the Rams were officially eliminated from playoff consideration with the loss at University of Phoenix Stadium. That makes it a nine-season drought since the Rams have participated in the postseason, earning a wild-card berth in 2004 after an 8-8 regular season.
The St. Louis defense didn’t exactly come out breathing fire, with Arizona marching 80 yards for a touchdown off the opening kickoff. And when it became apparent that the Rams couldn’t run the football on offense, you knew it had the potential to be a long day.
“We knew when we came in that their (defensive) front was outstanding — fourth against the run,” Fisher said. “I thought we’d do a better job than we did, but we couldn’t run the football, and that’s disappointing.
“The stats certainly are misleading with Tavon’s reverse. But really that’s the difference in the ballgame — they did an outstanding job against our run game.”
Austin gained 56 yards on an end-around late in the third quarter, setting up the Rams’ only touchdown of the day. Otherwise, the Rams managed only 44 yards on their other 18 carries. Stacy logged only 25 yards on 14 carries for easily his worst outing since taking over the starting job at running back in Game 5 (Jacksonville).
Once the Rams were rendered one-dimensional on offense, the Big Red made Clemens pay by sacking him four times and hitting on numerous other occasions.
The hit that sealed the deal came on the second play of the third quarter. Cardinals defensive end Calais Campbell got by Rams left guard Chris Williams on second-and-10 from the St. Louis 21 and hit Clemens as he was releasing the ball.
As a result, the throw had no steam on it. That allowed linebacker Karlos Dansby to step in front of intended receiver Jared Cook for a “pick 6,” with an interception and a 23-yard return for a touchdown.
“Cookie had a couple steps on him and I just wanted to kind of throw it out in front of Jared and save a sack,” Clemens said. “I got kind of spun around a little bit. I’ve gotta do something different with it. ... I wish I would’ve just held onto it or found a way to just ‘dirt’ it in a different location.”
Two series later, with the Rams backed up at their 5, veteran pass rusher John Abraham came free up the middle on a stunt and dropped Clemens for a safety. On the play, center Tim Barnes — making his first NFL start — turned to his right to block. Left guard Chris Williams turned to his left.
That left a natural lane for Abraham to get to Clemens untouched. The safety made it 23-3 with 9:10 to go in the third quarter. And the rout was on.
Here are the updates posted throughout the game by Post-Dispatch football writer Joe Lyons:
Strong defense and the Carson Palmer-to-Larry Fitzgerald connection were key as the Arizona Cardinals powered by the Rams 30-10 Sunday.
The Cardinals (8-5) improved to 6-1 at home while snapping an eight-game losing streak in the NFC West. The Rams are 5-8.
Palmer completed 27 of 32 for 269 yards and a touchdown to Fitzgerald, who finished with 12 catches for 96 yards. Arizona's defense sacked Kellen Clemens four times.
The Cardinals' Jay Feely, who entered the day 22 of 24, missed his second field goal attempt of the day — from just 25 yards out — with 4:27 to play.
But Arizona got the ball back right away as the Cardinals' Rashad Johnson stepped in front of Chris Givens for an interception on the Rams' first play after the missed field goal.
The pick eventually led to a 6-yard TD run from Andre Ellington to close out the 30-10 win for the Cardinals.
STACY TD CUTS CARD' LEAD TO 23-10
On the bench with ice taped to his ankle, Tavon Austin looks to be done for the day. Austin was injured at the end of his 56-yard run that set up the Rams' lone touchdown of the day — a 1-yard Zac Stacy run on the opening play of the fourth quarter.
The Arizona defense stretched the Cardinals' lead to 21-3 in the opening minute of the second half. With Calais Campbell dragging down Kellen Clemens down, the quarterback's pass in right flat for Jared Cook was picked off by Karlos Dansby, who returned it 24 yards for a touchdown just 18 seconds after the halftime break.
Later in the third quarter, the Cardinals' special teams chipped in. A punt from Dave Zastudil bounced at the Rams' 1 and was covered by Bryan McCann and Justin Bethel. Three plays later, John Abraham sacked Clemens in the end zone for a safety to move the Cardinals' lead to 23-3 with 9:10 to play in the third quarter.
On the ensuing free kick from punter Johnny Hekker, the Rams, led by Isaiah Pead, swarm-tackled rookie Tyrann Matthieu, who was carted off the field with an injury to his left knee.
Following a missed field goal from 50 yards by the Cardinals' Jay Feely, the Rams ended up with their best starting field position of the day, at their won 40. On first down, Tavon Austin took a reverse for a thrilling 56-yard run to the Cardinals' 4.
An Arizona penalty moved the ball to the 2 as Austin walked off the field after being attended to by team doctors and trainers.
Two plays later, Stacy scored on the first play of the final quarter.
Arizona finished the first half the same way it started — with an 80-yard scoring drive. With 50 seconds to play before halftime, the Cardinals' Larry Fitzgerald caught a short pass from Carson Palmer and powered his way through a Trumaine Johnson tackle for a 7-yard touchdown that stretched the Arizona lead to 14-3.
On the previous two plays, Fitzgerald came up with catches with defender Rodney McLeod draped all over him. That Arizona drive also included a 15-yard dead-ball call against the Rams' Robert Quinn.
Crazy play with just under 11 minutes to play in the opening half as Palmer hooks up with tight end Rob Housler on a pass near the goal line. But just before Housler crossed into the end zone, Rams safety Rodney McLeod knocked the ball free and cornerback Janoris Jenkins scooped it up and headed upfield.
Following a review, possession was awarded to the Rams, but since the play was originally ruled a touchdown, the return was wiped out. In addition, the Rams were penalized on the play for a hit by defensive end Eugene Sims on Palmer during the Jenkins' return.
Some halftime numbers of note:
• Palmer has completed 16 of 17 passes for 169 yards and a touchdown. Fitzgerald is having another big game against the Rams with eight catches for 71 yards and a score.
• Clemens' 11-of-15 half includes 141 passing yards. Rookie Stedman Bailey leads the Rams with three catches for 46 yards. The Cardinals have limited Zac Stacy to 11 yards on seven carries.
ARIZONA UP 7-3 AFTER A QUARTER
The Cardinals took the opening kickoff and moved 80-yards on eight plays to grab a quick 7-0 lead over the Rams today in Glendale, Ariz.
The 3-yard touchdown run with 10:32 left in the quarter from Rashard Mendenhall, a University of Illinois product, capped the drive, which featured passes from Carson Palmer to Larry Fitzgerald covering 19 and 15 yards as well as a 12-yard reverse from cornerback/kick returner/receiver Patrick Peterson.
An additional 15 yards was tacked on to the Peterson run after the Rams' T,J. McDonald was called for a hit out of bounds at the end of the run.
The Rams answered with a 44-yard field goal from Greg Zuerlein on their opening drive. The kick with 6:12 to play in the first quarter, was the 20th successful kick in 22 tries this season for Zuerlein, the second-year pro from Missouri Western.
The Rams' scoring drive was highlighted by passes from Kellen Clemens to Cory Harkey (9 yards), Jared Cook (11 yards) and Chris Givens (21 yards).
DAHL RETURNS AT RIGHT GUARD
GLENDALE, ARIZ. • With Harvey Dahl healthy after missing the last four games with a knee injury, the Rams have reshuffled their offensive line.
Dahl will start at right guard against Arizona, his first game action since suffering the injury Oct. 28 against Seattle. That means Rodger Saffold, who had started the last three games at right guard in place of Dahl, starts at right tackle. Joe Barksdale, who started the last 10 games at right tackle, is on the bench today.
Tim Barnes makes his first NFL start at center, and as expected, Jake Long starts at left tackle after successfully going through the concussion protocol during the practice week.
There was one surprise among the Rams’ pregame inactives: offensive guard Shelley Smith, who had played in 11 of the team’s previous 12 games this season including a start Nov. 3 against Tennessee. The other inactives: RB Daryl Richardson, CB Brandon McGee (foot), C Scott Wells (fibula), OT Mike Person, DT Jermelle Cudjo and DE Gerald Rivers.
With Smith not dressing, that means G/C Barrett Jones, the rookie from Alabama, is active for the first time as an NFL player.
For Arizona, QB Carson Palmer, who was listed as questionable with a right (throwing) elbow injury is active and is expected to start. Arizona’s inactives are as follows: WR Brittan Golden, QB Ryan Lindley, RB Ryan Williams, LB Dontay Moch, G Earl Watford, TE Korey Sperry, DE Ronald Talley.
(Jim Thomas of the Post-Dispatch contributed to this report.)