DAN BICKLEY

Kliff Kingsbury, Cardinals fail to find redemption in lackluster loss to Rams

Jan 3, 2021, 7:26 PM
(Photo by Norm Hall/Getty Images)...
(Photo by Norm Hall/Getty Images)
(Photo by Norm Hall/Getty Images)

Emotions are high. Temperatures are hot. I’ve learned not to make really big decisions while incandescent with rage.

Fire Kliff Kingsbury?

Yes. Definitely, yes.

Following an 18-7 loss on Sunday, there is no other path forward. The Cardinals will miss the playoffs for the fifth consecutive year. The lack of leadership and discipline are appalling. The offense is prone to stagnation. They have collectively squandered a golden opportunity, losing to lesser teams, often taking the field without bloodlust, shooting themselves in the feet along the way.

And if a head coach could be dismissed for a single play call, it would be this:

After burning his second timeout before a third-and-18 in the fourth quarter, the Cardinals ran an option play with a gimpy quarterback who missed most of the game with an ankle injury.

We’ve seen this team fall off the rails before. On Sunday, it went off the Kliff.

“We made strides,” Kingsbury said. “There’s no question, as an organization, that we’re not where we want to be. But the competitiveness from Year 1 to Year 2 definitely stepped up.”

Sorry, not good enough. Not after this cowardly exit, when the Cardinals scored two touchdowns in their final eight quarters.

This game was a chance for redemption. And Kingsbury’s Cardinals turned it into the most embarrassing performance of the season.

Those sated by the “progress” of an 8-8 season should be muzzled with duct tape. You don’t care enough to be part of this conversation.

The Cardinals were once 5-2 and the darlings of the NFL. They ended the season with a whimper, bullied into submission by the 49ers; exposed as fragile and thin by the Rams. Of all the consecutive losses to Sean McVay, this one hurts the most.

There are so many questions.

Kyler Murray proved he has electrifying, game-changing talents. I strongly believe in his future as a franchise quarterback. But he doesn’t always inspire his teammates. His interaction with the media has been aloof and occasionally weird. Before Sunday’s game, Cardinals defensive lineman Jordan Phillips tweeted out his support for Bills quarterback Josh Allen as league MVP.

And on Sunday, after injuring his ankle on the first series of the game, Murray kept leaving the field and re-emerging from the tunnel. He didn’t return until 14:25 remaining in the game.

I will not judge another man’s courage when it comes to playing football while injured. But I can guarantee you that some of Murray’s teammates will. After all, this is the NFL, a league built on blood and guts. This was a playoffs-or-bust scenario. And when Murray did return to the game, he seemed to throw the ball well, passing for 60 yards on his first four attempts.

“I had to let some things kick in,” Murray said, obviously referring to painkillers. “Once I did, that’s when I decided to go in.”

Meanwhile, DeAndre Hopkins was mostly a godsend in 2020. But he needlessly picked a fight with unnamed members of the local media before the final two games. And on Sunday, he melted down in a key situation, drawing a bad penalty out of frustration.

Hopkins was called for unsportsmanlike conduct, for barking at an official and then flipping him off … over a foul he obviously committed. That doesn’t happen on a team with real leadership and real accountability.

The management of this team left much to be desired. Andy Isabella can’t get on the field. They botched the handling of the placekickers. They chose Chris Streveler over Brett Hundley a long time ago, yet ceased giving him offensive snaps after the second game of the season. But this team had the talent to make the playoffs long before Sunday. Instead, they’ve wasted two years of Murray’s rookie deal, and the clock is ticking.

Asked what needs to change going forward, Murray said the following:

“I think part of it is going through it. Learning how to win. And some other reasons that I don’t care to break down right now. We’ve got to be better in all phases. And I hope that this motivates us as an organization. It’s an ugly feeling …”

Ugly, indeed. This team had a chance to be the underdogs of the NFC playoffs. Without a strong foundation or any kind of identity, they collapsed.

The team will surely return with its coaching staff intact, attempting to sell statistical, methodical progress. They will point to Murray’s injury in Week 17 as reason for patience. Maybe they give Kingsbury a veteran presence on the sidelines to help him along during the games.

But that’s just kicking a can down the road.

This team needs a stronger voice at the top. A head coach who is a leader of men. A head coach who is more than just an offensive coordinator. A head coach who isn’t the general manager. A head coach who so elite at what he does best that the entire team lines up to follow him, maybe even running through brick walls along the way.

At the very least, somebody who doesn’t get manhandled and outmaneuvered by division rivals with a playoff berth on the line.

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