"A perfect scenario, a perfect place to be in," Warner said. "But then a lot of times it's more disappointing when you don't get it done in a situation like that."
Warner, 28-for-41 for 307 yards in his first game against the St. Louis franchise he directed to two Super Bowls and one NFL crown, drove the Cardinals to the St. Louis 5 in the final seconds.
But Archuleta, playing on the field where he was a college star for Arizona State, burst through for a sack.
"They did a good job coming down the field," Archuleta said, "and we needed that play."
The Cardinals scrambled into formation for another play, but a flag was thrown against tackle Leonard Davis, and under NFL rules the clock kept running to end the game. Davis was getting an intravenous injection of fluids after the game and wasn't available.
"There's no finger pointing or anything like that," wide receiver Bryant Johnson said. "We just have to execute on offense."
Marc Bulger directed touchdown drives on St. Louis' first possession of each half and the Cardinals advanced inside the Rams 12 four times without a touchdown. Sacks spoiled three of the threats.
"We're trying to establish our character and identity," Archuleta said, "and this was a great game for us, especially for the defense."
Coach Mike Martz, offensive-minded to say the least, praised his defense.
"We have come a long way defensively," he said. "We've got a ways to go, but our front seven is terrific."
Bulger completed 18 of 29 passes for 216 yards, including a 19-yard touchdown pass to Torry Holt in the first quarter. He was intercepted once.
"We got the numbers last week and we lost," Bulger said. "This week we didn't really get the numbers but we won. I'm not going to sit here and pick apart stats. ... If we win, that's all I care about."
Steven Jackson rushed for 93 yards on 18 carries, including a seven-yard TD that was the difference in the game.
Arizona got the ball on its 14 with 1:53 to play and no timeouts. Warner threw passes to Larry Fitzgerald and Anquan Boldin to get the ball to the 5. But Archeleta burst through to grab Warner for a 5-yard loss, then Davis had a false start as the clock ran out.
Boldin caught eight passes for 119 yards. With rookie J.J. Arrington out with illness, Marcel Shipp started at running back for Arizona and gained 54 yards in 12 carries. He also caught five passes for 39 yards.
Arizona had eight penalties for 72 yards, all on its final four possessions.
"They always say that holding can be called on every play," Warner said, "and we had a stretch there when I think it was."
Neil Rackers kicked field goals of 29, 26, 48 and 35 yards for the Cardinals. In two games, Arizona's offense has one touchdown and six field goals.
"It's frustrating for the whole team," coach Dennis Green said of the red-zone problems, "because everything is affected by it."
Down 17-9, Arizona drove to the Rams' 8 in the final quarter. But on second-and-9, Ryan Pickett sacked Warner and forced Rackers' 35-yarder that cut the lead to 17-12.
The Rams took the opening kickoff and went 80 yards in seven plays. Jackson started the drive with runs of 24 and 15 yards. Bulger threw over the middle to Kevin Curtis for 29 yards to the Arizona 19, then 19 yards to Holt and it was 7-0.
- The teams exchanged penalties on consecutive plays in the first quarter. Leonard Little recovered Warner's fumble, then Darnell Dockett intercepted Bulger's pass.
- With C Alex Stepanovich playing his first game after coming back from a broken right hand, RG Reggie Wells snapped on Arizona's shotgun formations.
- DeJuan Groce made a brilliant interception of Warner's long pass in the second quarter.