Rapid Reactions: Cardinals flat in must-win game, lose to 49ers

Dec 26, 2020, 6:15 PM | Updated: Dec 27, 2020, 12:20 am

Arizona Cardinals wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins, reacts after missing a catch against the San Franc...

Arizona Cardinals wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins, reacts after missing a catch against the San Francisco 49ers during the second half of an NFL football game, Saturday, Dec. 26, 2020, in Glendale, Ariz. (AP Photo/Rick Scuteri)

(AP Photo/Rick Scuteri)

You would be rather confused as a viewer Saturday if you were told the Arizona Cardinals were the team in a must-win game and not the San Francisco 49ers.

With San Francisco away from home, out of the playoff picture and missing a handful of key players, the 49ers were the group showing more urgency in a 20-12 Cardinals loss.

The defeat now means the Cardinals’ playoff fate has been taken out of their hands and into the Chicago Bears’.

Arizona Sports hosts and editors react to the biggest loss of the Cardinals’ season thus far.

John Gambadoro, co-host of Burns & Gambo

I’ll keep this short – that was pathetic!

An absolutely brutal performance in which the Arizona Cardinals failed to show up. They deserved to lose. With everything on the line, and I mean everything, you have to wonder what the hell were they thinking? How could they play that poorly against a team with nothing to play for when you had everything to play for? A playoff spot could have been secured this weekend! At the very least, a win gives you control of your own destiny going into the finale against the Rams.

I said it before and I’ll say it again: 8-8. That is what this team is. Plain and simple.

Murray was terrible, the defense, especially the rush defense, was terrible, the coaching was terrible, Kenyan Drake was terrible, Mason Cole was terrible. I mean seriously — did they even practice this week? Where was the sense of urgency ALL GAME!

Kliff had his lunch stolen from him by Robert Saleh, the 49ers’ defensive coordinator. Then he had his books stolen from him and his backpack and his lunch money for the next day. How many players were out for the 49ers? And Arizona couldn’t take advantage. That’s on Kliff, that’s on the lack of leadership on this team, that’s on every single player for not taking this game more seriously. I don’t want to hear on any given Sunday — the 49ers are not good they are completely depleted and they want to go home after four weeks in the desert. And you let them beat you.

Shame, shame shame.

Vince Marotta, co-host of Bickley & Marotta

That was dumbfounding.

How can a team needing a win to stay in control of its playoff fate put that type of effort?

And how many times have we asked ourselves that very question during the 2020 season as it pertains to the Arizona Cardinals?

Saturday’s 20-12 loss to a bunch of guys in San Francisco 49ers uniforms really gives credence to the “is Kliff Kingsbury an NFL-caliber head coach” chorus that’s been singing since Steve Keim pulled the trigger on a controversial hire in January of 2019.

Earlier this season (admittedly in better times), I asked the head coach what the ceiling for his offense is in his mind.

“I’d love to see it,” he responded.

Thirty-one games into his head coaching tenure, we haven’t seen it. Or worse yet, maybe we have.

The offensive failure (12 points is a season-low) is at the top of the list of reasons why the Cardinals lost this pivotal game. but there are plenty of others.

Could the offensive line play any worse? How does a third-string quarterback with one career win play circles around a Pro Bowl quarterback who was the first overall pick?

The 2020 season has been incredibly frustrating for the Cardinals, even in wins against Seattle and Buffalo. Through the frustration, I’ve shot down all talk of whether or not Kingsbury should be on the hot seat.

His decision to go for it on 4th-and-2 from his own 35-yard line down only two points with nine minutes left in the fourth quarter was disastrous. Not only did they not convert, but San Francisco put another touchdown on the board 20 seconds later.

But when a team with so much to play for comes out to the field looking like extras from The Walking Dead in red uniforms, you have to question the coaching. It’s not the first (or the second or third) time that we’ve scratched our heads about the lack of passion or energy on the Arizona side. In a year where motivation from fans has been absent, never before has that element needed to come from the staff.

It’s safe to say with one game remaining, that hasn’t happened, and that’s beyond concerning.

Kellan Olson, editor

I haven’t dedicated much in this space to Kliff Kingsbury throughout the season. The two things the coach of this Arizona Cardinals team needs to do is 1) show they are capable of maximizing Kyler Murray’s ability and 2) be mildly competent in other areas.

It’s as clear that Kyler Murray is talented enough to lead a few deep playoff runs as it is that Kliff Kingsbury is not even close to being the coach that can get the most out of that talent. Playoffs or not, we’ve seen enough on Kingsbury to know he can’t handle the two most important parts of this job.

Watching Kyle Shanahan and Sean McVay get a few drives a game that almost feel free remind you that’s what precise game-planning from an “offensive guru” looks like. Kingsbury does not have nearly enough of those and his befuddling play calls on other drives cancel those out.

At a certain point, the way this team sucks is on him. The penalties, burned timeouts and inept decision-making scream a poorly coached team, on top of what Vince mentioned above. When your offense has struggled to move the ball into the red zone nearly all game, why on Earth go for it down two points when the 49ers would be in field goal range? With eight minutes left still and the defense doing well enough?

It’s difficult to believe in this team if Kingsbury is running it. He just lost a must-win game to C.J. Beathard.

Jordan Byrd, producer of Burns & Gambo

Blame it on too much Christmas cheer or overlooking a wounded opponent but however you slice it, the Cardinals season is now hurtling towards a heartbreaking ending.

The Cardinals didn’t execute, didn’t show any intensity and were out played and out coached in every facet by the 49ers on Saturday.

The fact that the Cards could be this lifeless against an inferior team on paper is absolutely inexcusable. Kliff Kingsbury and the coaching staff deserve their fair share of that blame, but it’s also on the players for not being able to take advantage of the numerous opportunities the Niners gave them to hang around.

The offense we saw the last few weeks appears now to be a mirage. Many of the same mistakes that have plagued this unit early in the season were back on full display. Penalties that put the offense in longer than needed to situations, dropped balls and an inconsistent run game were all problems that the Cards reverted back to Saturday.

Instead of finding their stride and beginning to peak when the season matters the most, the Arizona offense is going backwards. That’s partly on the injuries the Cards were experiencing but also a bad indication that this team and their offensive guru of a head coach are not nearly as far along as we once hoped or where they should be.

The 49ers were using a third-string quarterback that hadn’t played in two years, and yet Kyle Shanahan looked like the real play-calling savant in how he was able to squeeze just enough out of his team to get the win. Let’s not fool ourselves, the Niners left seven points on the field all in the form of missed kicks. If Robbie Gould wasn’t having just about as bad of a day as the Cardinals, the Niners would have won comfortably.

What once looked like a special season just a month or so ago is now trending towards an epic collapse. Arizona no longer controls its own playoff destiny and it shouldn’t. Saturday’s performance was about as far removed from looking like a playoff team that you can get. The Cards might still have a chance and could possibly get the help they need from the Bears to make the postseason, but if Saturday was any indication, Arizona will be lucky not to get blown out by halftime next week in Los Angeles.

Kevin Zimmerman, editor and reporter

This was the worst loss of the season and one with implications beyond this year’s playoff hopes. The 49ers treated their temporary home at State Farm Stadium like they owned it, calling a masterful game on both sides of the ball.

There was the Cardinals blitzing Budda Baker off the edge and Kyle Shanahan prepared with a bootleg play to tight end George Kittle into the vacated space. There was misdirection and motion that had Arizona’s defenders thinking too much and losing contain on the edges as they searched for the ball in the backfield.

Then there was the San Francisco defense, which injured Kyler Murray and stopped the Cardinals’ run game despite a defensive line decimated by injuries. The 49ers held up just fine in coverage down a few bodies there as well.

Again, Arizona fell to a team that on paper looked far less talented, and Kliff Kingsbury will be on the hot seat through next season unless the Cardinals can beat the Rams, get a little lucky and fulfill their promise with at least a promising postseason showing.

Luke Lapinski, host of The Rundown with Luke Lapinski

The Cardinals’ last football game of 2020 was essentially 2020 rolled into a football game. It’s their worst loss in years, by far. Especially when you consider they were facing a beat-up team with a third-string quarterback at home – with a playoff spot on the line.

Credit to San Francisco for showing up and blah, blah, blah. They’ve had brutal luck this season, so I’m sure they had fun today. Good for them. But this was a textbook example of what happens when you give a team life. If the Cardinals had jumped on them and played with the fury of a team controlling its own playoff destiny in late December, the 49ers would’ve eventually collapsed. That’s a team of backups right now. They fought through it and played hard in a very tough situation, but Arizona’s better.

Not only was it a rough loss, it was truly frustrating to watch. With C.J. Beathard starting at quarterback for the first time since he lost to Josh Rosen (no, seriously) back in 2018, it was pretty clear San Francisco was going to have to run. And with Raheem Mostert out, it was equally clear that responsibility would fall squarely on Jeff Wilson’s shoulders. He came in with 341 rushing yards this season, and 712 in his entire three-year career… then promptly ran all over Arizona for 183 yards. Plus another 21 yards and a touchdown through the air.

Equally frustrating? The false starts the Cardinals keep committing. I didn’t think this game was officiated all that well, but that’s no excuse. Arizona has more false starts than successful field goals this season. Not good.

The Cardinals aren’t done, but now they need help. They’ll have to beat the Rams next week – something they haven’t done since Sean McVay took over before the 2017 season – and they’ll need the Bears to lose a game somewhere too. That’s probably not happening this week against a Jacksonville team that’s starting Mike Glennon, sitting James Robinson and sewing Trevor Lawrence’s name on the back of the jerseys in the team shop.

So basically Arizona needs to beat the Rams and pull for a Green Bay win over Chicago in Week 17. That’s not impossible, but it sure felt that way at times today. Hopefully Kyler Murray is good to go after looking like he got hurt on the Cards’ last offensive play, and hopefully this wasn’t Larry Fitzgerald’s last home game. Because that just wouldn’t be right at all.

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Rapid Reactions: Cardinals flat in must-win game, lose to 49ers