The return of the Cardinals--football Cardinals, that is--was a disappointment for St. Louis on Sunday. So was the play of defensive back Dexter McCleon.
McCleon was called for two pass interference penalties and victimized on a touchdown pass. Those mistakes accounted for 17 points as Arizona beat the St. Louis Rams, 20-17.
The Cardinals are 2-2, the Rams 1-3.
The game was the Cardinals' first regular-season game in St. Louis since owner Bill Bidwill took the team to Arizona following the 1987 season. After the game, Cardinal Coach Vince Tobin gave Bidwill the game ball.
"I'll probably have this one done up and put it in a place of importance," Bidwill said.
McCleon, a second-year cornerback who became a starter when franchise player Ryan McNeil held out through most of the preseason, made his biggest gaffe in the fourth quarter when he interfered with Arizona's Frank Sanders for a 43-yard penalty that set up Joe Nedney's game-winning 29-yard field goal with 4:04 to play.
"He threw it high, but I thought I could jump up and get it," Sanders said. "But my legs got caught up."
McCleon and Ram Coach Dick Vermeil disputed the call.
"I thought he tripped," McCleon said. "We were going for the ball. Why would I want to push a guy down way downfield?"
"Uncatchable ball," Vermeil said. "When an offensive player and a defensive player get their feet tangled up, it's normally not pass interference. Obviously, that one killed us."
Cardinal quarterback Jake Plummer, who was 21 for 31 for 211 yards and no interceptions, also lobbed a 13-yard touchdown pass just over McCleon to Sanders with 1:55 to go in the first half.
McCleon also had an 11-yard pass interference penalty which set up Adrian Murrell's four-yard touchdown run just before halftime.
In all, the Rams had 10 penalties for 138 yards.
The Rams lost their eighth consecutive home game, wasting a strong showing by rookie running back Robert Holcombe, who carried 21 times for 84 yards and scored twice.
Holcombe, the Rams' second-round draft pick, was inactive for the first three games. He started in place of Greg Hill, who is sidelined at least eight to 10 weeks after breaking his leg last week.
Holcombe scored on a five-yard run in the first quarter to put the Rams ahead, 7-0. The Rams had been outscored, 35-0, in the first quarter in their previous games.