DAN BICKLEY

Cardinals’ loss to the Patriots is of the rage-inducing variety

Nov 29, 2020, 4:51 PM | Updated: Nov 30, 2020, 11:00 am

New England Patriots defensive lineman Adam Butler, top, sacks Arizona Cardinals quarterback Kyler ...

New England Patriots defensive lineman Adam Butler, top, sacks Arizona Cardinals quarterback Kyler Murray in the second half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Nov. 29, 2020, in Foxborough, Mass. (AP Photo/Elise Amendola)

(AP Photo/Elise Amendola)

Some losses are heartbreaking. Some have alibis. Others just make you mad.

This one incited a Big Red rage.

The Cardinals are now 6-5. Their head coach is feeling the heat of too many bad calls and too many disappointing performances. The star quarterback doesn’t look like he’s having fun playing football. If not for an epic Hail Mary against the Bills, the Cardinals would be carrying a four-game losing streak into the final month of the season.

We still have a winning team. But it doesn’t feel like we have a winning program in Arizona.

“Disappointed that we didn’t find a way to win the game,” Cardinals head coach Kliff Kingsbury said. “But that’s the NFL.”

The Cardinals lost to another inferior team on Sunday, falling 20-17 to the transitioning Patriots, a team that struggled to post 179 yards of total offense. Regrets and laments are everywhere. This is simply not acceptable.

A game against Bill Belichick in New England will never be this easy. Same with a Thursday Night game against a NFC West rival inside an empty Seattle stadium. The Cardinals whiffed on both opportunities. We keep offering up our unrequited love to this team, and they keep telling us not to trust them when it really matters. And once again, the culprits were an underwhelming offense; more and more penalties; a lack of discipline in key situations; a faulty field goal kicker; and dreadful special teams.

“They made the biggest plays at the biggest moments and we didn’t,” Cardinals offensive lineman Justin Pugh said.

This game also featured a diminished Kyler Murray, who was obviously nursing a sore shoulder. He rarely threw the ball downfield. He was in full self-preservation mode from the very beginning. Much about Murray’s performance on Sunday was overly skittish, the same stuff that too often derailed the Cardinals in 2019.

Murray is clearly frustrated. His post-game press conferences have become laborious, inconsiderate affairs. On Sunday, he disputed an innocuous question from a local TV anchor. He bristled at why the offense disintegrates when he’s not making magic with his feet.

“I feel like I don’t think I have to run for us to be successful,” Murray said. “I’m very confident in my running backs, you know. It is what it is. They choose to take me out of it. I have to hand the ball off. I can’t control the ball after that. I have to hand the ball.”

I share Murray’s frustrations. By now, you would think a reputed offensive mastermind like Kingsbury would find a way to win games without dual-threat performances from a diminutive quarterback.

But, no.

Even worse, as the tone of the game began to turn on Sunday, the emboldened Patriots broke out a new strategy. They had multiple defensive players jumping up and down in the passing lanes to deflect passes and obscure Murray’s vision. And it worked.

You’ll be seeing more of this in the near future.

“We’re going to find out what we’re made of,” Pugh said.

After getting badly outcoached by Pete Carroll in Seattle, Kingsbury was again in the crosshairs on Sunday. He held his own for a while. The sense of urgency and play-calling were crisp, and the Cardinals started fast. It felt like the visiting team was about to author an easy win and a much-needed statement game.

Like so many others, it all turned just before halftime. And then it all became a precarious roll of the dice, a dangerous proposition against downtrodden opponents. Wash, rinse, repeat.

When these moments keep happening over and over again, they reflect a football team that doesn’t know how to win big games. Or a team that feels handicapped by its own coaching staff when the pressure gets thick. Or a team that still doesn’t have enough talent even though they have a franchise quarterback on a rookie contract.

That’s what happens when you make crucial mistakes in defining moments, whether you’re Kingsbury or Zane Gonzalez.

The Cardinals are making us sweat. They’re making us swear. They’re making us throw the remote control, like I did three times on Sunday afternoon. Rarely has a team so dangerous and so entrenched in a playoff conversation been so disappointing to the masses.

Maybe it wasn’t the best idea pairing a rookie quarterback with an unproven head coach. But it’s time for these growing pains to end in Arizona. It’s time for a contending team to finally seize the moment. Before it’s too late.

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