But with 11 minutes to go in the second quarter and trailing 7-3, the Rams got a glimmer of hope that the tide had turned and good things were still to come. That glimmer vanished into the darkness of a whistle heard only by a player or two among the 22 standing on the field.
After Cardinals quarterback Carson Palmer hit tight end Jim Dray down the middle, Dray appeared to break the plane of the end zone before the ball came out to extend Arizona's lead. Rams safety Rodney McLeod hit Dray before he crossed the goal line, jarring the ball loose. Cornerback Janoris Jenkins scooped it up and began running the opposite direction.
Almost immediately, side judge Rick Patterson signaled touchdown which led many to believe there was little doubt of the score. But aside from his signal, not many seemed to hear a whistle.
"They ruled it a touchdown," Rams coach Jeff Fisher said. "Nobody else blew the whistle. Back officials didn't know what was going on so Jenks picked the ball up like you're supposed to do and run with it. Then we got a penalty on top of it."
We'll get to the penalty in a moment but before we do, it's worth noting just how much the premature touchdown signal hurt the Rams in the moment. The replay showed that Dray really wasn't all that close to scoring or even being down before the fumble. Jenkins made it almost to midfield before he realized the play had been blown dead. He almost certainly would have scored a touchdown to give the Rams a 10-7 second quarter lead.
"I didn't hear any whistle," Jenkins said. "I just finished the play. At the end, I can only just play and then when the whistle blows and it comes back. I think it could have changed the game. But it didn't."
Making matters worse for the Rams, the officials flagged defensive end Eugene Sims for a personal foul for hitting Arizona quarterback Carson Palmer after Jenkins picked up the fumble and began returning it. Of course, Palmer was like most everybody else in that he heard no whistle and was actually in motion to attempt to tackle Jenkins on the return.
The penalty on Sims came in as a result of his blocking Palmer and trying to help Jenkins score.
Upon review, the officials got the call of a fumble correct but opted not to pick up the flag despite attempts by the officials to get Walt Coleman to do so before the review took place. So, instead of a touchdown or even a touchback from the fumble recovery, the Rams got the ball but started from their own 10. Arizona eventually got a stop on the Rams' ensuing possession and promptly scored on its next drive.
A possible 10-7 Rams' lead became Arizona's 14-3 edge.
"It's a difficult call," Fisher said. "It's just one of those things that happens. I'm not mad at them. I'm a little disappointed in the fact that they enforced the penalty."
Considering the way the game went, it'd be quite a leap to think that play going the Rams way would have keyed a victory but there's no doubt the botched calls hurt any chance the Rams had of making it a game.
A roundup of the weekend's Rams stories appearing here on ESPN.com. … Saturday's Ram-blings explored the Rams' ongoing issues with dropped passes. … Next, we previewed Sunday's game with three things to watch and a few key individual matchups to keep an eye on in Sunday's game. … In the immediate aftermath of the Rams' loss, we offered this week's edition of Rapid Reaction. … From there, we revisited the three things to watch with an eye on how the Rams fared in each of those categories. … Finally, it was a look at how Arizona's win shows the Rams have a tougher road to the top of the NFC West now than it once appeared.
Jim Basquil and Eric Allen break down the Rams' loss.
At stltoday.com, columnist Jeff Gordon offered his grades on the Rams' Sunday performance.
Gordon also chatted with fans during the contest.
Jim Thomas' game story puts the spotlight on the Rams' lost decade.
Turf Show Times offered its take on Sunday's happenings.
At KMOV.com, Doug Vaughn ponders another disappointing Rams' performance.