DAN BICKLEY

Arizona Cardinals look lifeless in latest loss to San Francisco 49ers

Dec 26, 2020, 6:58 PM | Updated: Dec 27, 2020, 12:16 am
Arizona Cardinals quarterback Kyler Murray (1) runs as San Francisco 49ers cornerback Ahkello Withe...

Arizona Cardinals quarterback Kyler Murray (1) runs as San Francisco 49ers cornerback Ahkello Witherspoon (23) defends during the second half of an NFL football game, Saturday, Dec. 26, 2020, in Glendale, Ariz. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

(AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

Arizonans can live with defeat and disappointment. We’ve been doing that for decades.

But soft, underachieving, undisciplined football teams?

They are the exception. They are the unforgiven. They are the Cardinals team that took the field like Ambien zombies on Saturday afternoon, losing the penultimate game of the regular season to a decimated, inferior opponent.

San Francisco 20, Arizona 12.

“Ooof. Did not see this coming,” Haason Reddick said after the game.

What a disgrace. What an indictment on the culture of this program. The Cardinals no longer control their playoff destiny, and that’s appropriate. They don’t deserve a playoff berth after this marshmallow performance.

In the matchup of head coaches, this was a bloody TKO. In the battleground of ambition, willpower and carpe diem, it was even worse.

The 49ers didn’t ask for respect. They grabbed it with both hands, paying whatever price the moment required.

Few football teams in 2020 have dealt with more misfortune than the 49ers, from wildfires in Northern California to debilitating injuries to Covid-19 restrictions that forced them to spend the last month in Glendale.

They spent Christmas at the Renaissance hotel, flying in family members for the weekend. They took the field on Saturday with nothing on the line except pride and professionalism.

Their sincerity and conviction was exhilarating. It was far too much for Kliff Kingsbury’s crew.

“A lot of disappointment,” wide receiver Christian Kirk said of his post-game feelings. “Just because it’s been the story of most of our losses this season.”

By far, this is the worst moment of Kingsbury’s NFL career, a head coach who has now lost to the Panthers, Lions, Patriots and 49ers in 2020.

He has just two signature victories, beating the Seahawks on a miracle finish in overtime and topping the Bills on a Hail Mary.

Both of these hallmark triumphs came down to the final play, and if the Cardinals finish 8-8 and out of the playoffs, his job status must be critically examined.

This should’ve been a drama-free afternoon, except the Cardinals came out sleepy and flat.

Their lack of preparedness and intensity was in stark contrast to the 49ers, who were flying around the field, tackling with malice, acting like this was their Super Bowl.

Arizona’s offensive line continued their pathetic parade of pre-snap penalties. Their center has four in the past two games, a statistic that is beyond comprehension. What possibly explains this kind of performance?

“Not sure, honestly,” offensive lineman D.J. Humphries said.

The Cardinals defense had its moments, showcasing even more great plays from the resurgent Haason Reddick. It also featured a secondary that would rather be playing flag football. Chris Banjo and Patrick Peterson had egregious moments of scaredy-cat football, the stuff that fortifies and emboldens a hard-core opponent.

In the NFL, soft football teams smell peculiar, like they don’t belong, like they just want to go home.

They smell like blood in the water, and on Saturday, the 49ers circled like sharks.

They attacked like violence was their passion, not because their profession requires tackling as a means to put a ball-carrier on the ground.

They command and demanded your respect, and I can only imagine how proud their fans must feel at the moment.

The Cardinals?

They deserve nothing.

After successive victories over NFC East teams, the Cardinals needed to make an impact statement on Saturday, building a narrative of momentum heading into the postseason.

They needed to soar like the Saints, who scored 52 points against the Vikings. Or perform like the Buccaneers, who scored 47 points in a blowout win over the Lions.

Alas, the Cardinals made their own kind of statement.

They are a low-ceiling team. Poorly coached. Too soft for the NFL postseason.

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