September 27, 2014

1998: Cards Defeat Rams in Return to St. Louis

The Cardinals moved from St. Louis to Phoenix following the 1987 season after 28 years and, now called the Arizona Cardinals, they returned on September 27, 1998 to play the Rams, who had relocated from Los Angeles to St. Louis in 1995.

The Cards had yet to post a winning record in Arizona and, thus far in 1998, were 1-2 after winning for the first time the previous week. Head Coach Vince Tobin was in his third season at the helm and had a promising second-year quarterback in Jake Plummer (pictured above). There were good wide receivers in Frank Sanders and Rob Moore and RB Adrian Murrell was dependable. CB Aeneas Williams was the top player in a fair defense.

St. Louis was in its second season under Head Coach Dick Vermeil and had not been a winning team since 1989, well before the move from LA. The Rams were also 1-2 and were coming off of a win the week before. QB Tony Banks had all the physical tools but had not produced consistently, and star WR Isaac Bruce was hampered by an injury. Much was expected from rookie RB Robert Holcombe, the team’s second round draft pick out of Illinois.

There were 55,832 fans in attendance at the Trans World Dome and many of them booed the visiting Cardinals, who were playing their first regular season game in St. Louis since moving. The Rams went three-and-out in their first series and, starting at their 44 yard line following the punt, Jake Plummer threw to TE Johnny McWilliams for 17 yards. Two carries by Adrian Murrell and another short pass advanced the ball to the St. Louis 31, but Joe Nedney’s 48-yard field goal attempt was unsuccessful.

The teams traded punts before St.Louis put together a scoring drive. With Robert Holcombe carrying six times for 30 yards and Tony Banks running for 19 and completing two passes, the Rams went 68 yards in nine plays capped by Holcombe running five yards for a touchdown. Jeff Wilkins added the extra point to make it 7-0.

The Cardinals responded with a series that extended into the second quarter. Plummer connected on four passes, two of them to Frank Sanders (pictured at left) for 11 and 19 yards and the longest to Rob Moore for 25 yards to the St. Louis 11. The 72-yard drive ended with Nedney booting a 22-yard field goal.

The Rams again moved well on their next possession, with Holcombe running effectively and Banks successful on three passes, including one to WR Ricky Proehl that picked up 16 yards to the Arizona 41. However, the drive stalled at the 27 and Wilkins missed a 45-yard try for a field goal.

Arizona responded by going 65 yards in 11 plays. Plummer completed four passes, converting a third-and-eight situation with a toss to Moore for 12 yards and scoring a touchdown with a throw to Sanders from 13 yards out. Nedney converted and the visitors were ahead for the first time by 10-7.

On their next series, the Cards got a big gain right away when Plummer threw to WR Eric Metcalf for 29 yards. Two penalties on the Rams helped the drive along and Murrell ran for a four-yard TD, with Nedney adding the extra point to give Arizona a ten-point lead.

St. Louis got the ball back with a minute remaining in the period and moved down the field, the biggest plays being Banks passes to RB Amp Lee for 23 yards and to Proehl for 13. On the final play of the first half, Wilkins kicked a 57-yard field goal and the score stood at 17-10 in favor of the Cardinals at the intermission.

The teams exchanged punts through a scoreless third quarter. The Cardinals reached the St. Louis 33 early in the final period but FS Keith Lyle intercepted a Plummer pass to end the threat. While the Rams weren’t able to move the ball and punted, they got a break on the Cards’ ensuing punt when they were penalized for interfering with the fair catch and St. Louis started in Arizona territory at the 46. The Rams struck quickly as Banks threw to WR J.T. Thomas for 42 yards and Holcombe ran around right end for a four-yard touchdown. Wilkins converted to tie the score at 17-17 with 9:52 to play in regulation.

The Cardinals, starting the next series at their 14, drove to their 37 before facing a third-and-14 situation, but a pass interference penalty on CB Dexter McCleon picked up 43 yards to the St. Louis 20 and, four plays later, Nedney kicked a 29-yard field goal to put the visitors back in front by three. The Rams had one last chance but went three-and-out, punted, and the Cardinals were able to control the ball and run out the clock. They came away winners by a final score of 20-17.  

Arizona had the edge in total yards (281 to 264) and first downs (22 to 17). The Cardinals also recorded four sacks (two by DE Andre Wadsworth) to one by St. Louis, but also suffered the only turnover of the game. The Rams hurt themselves with 10 penalties at a cost of 138 yards, with the big pass interference calls the most damaging of all, while five flags were thrown on the Cards.

Jake Plummer completed 21 of 31 passes for 211 yards and a touchdown while giving up one interception. Frank Sanders had 9 catches for 86 yards and a TD and Adrian Murrell rushed for 68 yards on 29 carries, one of which was for a score.

For the Rams, Robert Holcombe (pictured at right) was the star on offense as he gained 84 yards on 21 rushing attempts that included two touchdowns. Tony Banks was successful on 15 of 26 throws for 171 yards with no TDs or interceptions. Amp Lee topped the receivers with 5 catches for 53 yards.

“It’s great to be 2-2 after an 0-2 start,” said Coach Tobin of the Cardinals, who gave owner Bill Bidwill the game ball. “We haven’t been 2-2 since I’ve been here.”

Arizona lost to the Raiders the next week and hung around .500 until winning the last three games of the season, placing second in the NFC East and qualifying for a Wild Card playoff spot. The Cardinals defeated the Cowboys in the first round, the franchise’s first postseason win since they were the Chicago Cardinals in 1947, but lost to the Vikings in the Divisional game.

For the Rams, the loss to the Cardinals was the eighth consecutive at home on the way to a 4-12 last place finish in the NFC West, although a stunning turnaround was in the offing for 1999.

Jake Plummer was a big part of the late-season surge for the Cardinals as he passed for 3737 yards and 17 touchdowns. Frank Sanders caught 89 passes for 1145 yards (12.9 avg.) and three TDs.

Robert Holcombe’s early promise did not pan out as he ran for just 230 yards on 98 carries (2.3 avg.). The two touchdowns against the Cards were his total output for the year. With the arrival of Marshall Faulk, he was shifted to fullback in 1999 and lasted a total of four years in St. Louis before moving on to Tennessee, never gaining more than 294 rushing yards in a season.