Cardinals prove consistently inconsistent in loss to 49ers

Dec 26, 2020, 8:01 PM | Updated: 10:33 pm
Running back Jeff Wilson Jr. #30 of the San Francisco 49ers runs the ball as cornerback Byron Murph...
Running back Jeff Wilson Jr. #30 of the San Francisco 49ers runs the ball as cornerback Byron Murphy Jr. #33 of the Arizona Cardinals defends during the first half at State Farm Stadium on December 26, 2020 in Glendale, Arizona. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
(Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

GLENDALE, Ariz. — It’s difficult to analyze the 2020 Arizona Cardinals without sounding like this is an existential discussion.

Are they the 5-2 team that blew out the Dallas Cowboys and New York Jets before pulling off a thrilling win over the Seattle Seahawks in late October?

Are they the team that held Cam Newton to one of his worst games but still couldn’t beat the New England Patriots as part of a 1-4 stretch that followed?

They are something. Inconsistently consistent? Maybe they just are.

A 20-12 loss to a San Francisco 49ers team at State Farm Stadium marked another missed opportunity for Arizona.

“It’s definitely a frustrating deal when we don’t go out there and execute and kind of hit on all cylinders,” Cardinals receiver Christian Kirk said. “When it comes to Sundays, we just have those minor mishaps and some technical errors when it comes to penalties and just missed assignments and what not.”

Saturdays, too.

The Cardinals only had four penalties for 20 yards, but they were exclusively on false starts that turned 3rd-and-shorts to 3rd-and-longs.

Arizona’s running game couldn’t get going against a defensive front that was down regulars Javon Kinlaw and Dion Jordan. So quarterback Kyler Murray tossed it 50 times for only 247 yards despite San Francisco missing defensive backs Richard Sherman and Jimmie Ward.

Kirk said the team couldn’t gain traction without its running game, as Kenyan Drake took 18 carries for only 45 yards.

The Cardinals lost backup Chase Edmonds in the first half to a hip injury, and Murray’s eight rushes for 75 yards were mostly picking up third and fourth downs. Those kept drives alive only for the team to hit two field goals and score one touchdown.

Even on that touchdown drive before a failed two-point conversion, the Cardinals needed six plays inside the 10-yard line, a penalty on the 49ers and a timeout burned just for Drake to ride center Mason Cole long enough to sweep the ball over the goal line.

“Thought they did a great job coaching-wise. I thought they played really hard defensively,” Cardinals coach Kliff Kingsbury said. “Had some guys out but those other guys stepped up and were really physical.”

On the other side of the ball, the Cardinals defense looked like the team hit hard by injuries.

Niners head coach Kyle Shanahan appeared to have a counter for anything the Cardinals threw at San Francisco, and the 49ers’ run game piled up 227 yards for a 7.6-per-carry average. Running back Jeff Wilson accounted for 183 of those, while quarterback C.J. Beathard threw 182 yards and three scores on just 22 passing attempts.

All that had the Cardinals grasping for answers afterward.

“We just have to find a way to take the next step, not have these moments where we don’t feel like we played as well as we could, coached as well as we could,” Kingsbury said. “Just think it’s part of the process. We got to continue to work hard, find more consistency.”

The process for Arizona may continue for only eight more days before the offseason comes.

That was the message in the locker room after the game.

“Don’t really know what happened but I do know that it wasn’t just one person,” linebacker Haason Reddick said. “It was a collective effort and we didn’t get the job done.

“As of right now — phew — yeah, did not see this coming.”

The Cardinals (8-7) remain ahead of the Chicago Bears (7-7) for the final NFC Wild Card berth. Chicago, which regardless of Arizona’s finale against the Los Angeles Rams, can make the playoffs by winning out.

The Bears play the Jacksonville Jaguars on Sunday and the Green Bay Packers the next week.

Meanwhile, the Cardinals find themselves at season’s end still trying to find out who they really are.

Or to borrow the overused phrase from late Cardinals coach Denny Green, maybe they just are who we thought they were: An inconsistent, 8-8 team.

“It’s definitely frustrating,” left tackle D.J. Humphries said. “I try to lock in on doing my responsibility out of the 22 responsibilities on the field at a time. I couldn’t quite grasp or tell you what it is or the missing piece or anything like that. I couldn’t give you one thing to point the finger or put a dime on it.

“We got to finish the season strong and see where the chips fall.”

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