Arizona Cardinals disappointed, not discouraged after MNF loss to Rams

Dec 14, 2021, 12:10 AM | Updated: 2:22 am
A.J. Green #18 of the Arizona Cardinals carries the ball after a reception as Jordan Fuller #4 of t...
A.J. Green #18 of the Arizona Cardinals carries the ball after a reception as Jordan Fuller #4 of the Los Angeles Rams defends during the fourth quarter at State Farm Stadium on December 13, 2021 in Glendale, Arizona. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
(Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

GLENDALE — Usually playing at home brings out the best in a team.

The fans — for the most part — are on your side and you don’t have to travel, just to name a few positives.

But if you’re the 2021 Arizona Cardinals, their play at State Farm Stadium hasn’t quite reflected the perks associated with playing on your home turf.

Monday night’s 30-23 loss to the Los Angeles Rams was yet another example of things just not clicking in Glendale.

Offensively, the Cardinals couldn’t get out of their own way, whether it be from avoidable penalties to costly turnovers.

On the other side of the football, Arizona couldn’t contend with quarterback Matthew Stafford or his trio of wide receivers.

But for everything that went wrong for the Cardinals, they’re not toiling too much in the loss, understanding there’s still a lot of football to be played before the postseason kicks off.

“I just thought we had a couple of negative plays offensively,” quarterback Kyler Murray said after the game. “Other than that, I thought we moved the ball well. I thought we executed at a pretty high rate tonight. A lot of penalties, two turnovers, conversions on fourth down.

“I’m proud of the way the guys fought. Obviously, we lost. Everyone wanted to win, it was a big night, big game for us, but I’m not discouraged by what happened tonight.”

Still, another loss at home isn’t a good look for a team fighting for a first-round bye and home-field advantage for the playoffs.

While Murray threw for the second-most yards of the season with 383 and set a new high mark for the year in rushing yards with 61, the signal-caller and the offense just weren’t sharp when it counted.

After knocking in a field goal on their first possession and forcing a three-and-out defensively on the ensuing drive, the Cardinals offense had a chance at making it a two-score game early on in the first quarter.

Driving from their own 33-yard line, the Cardinals faced little resistance as they trek all the way down to the Rams’ four-yard line, threatening to extend their lead.

But instead of finding tight end Zach Ertz for the touchdown, Murray found the outstretched hands of Rams linebacker Ernest Jones, who snagged the QB’s pass for the interception.

With momentum on their side, the Rams responded with a 10-play, 68-yard drive highlighted by a two-yard touchdown grab from Odell Beckham Jr. to take a 7-3 lead.

It would be a sign of things to come, with Arizona’s ensuing drive stalling out over a negated 26-yard grab by A.J. Green on third-and-23 thanks to an offensive holding call on Max Garcia. Murray would rush for seven yards on the following play before the Cardinals were forced to punt.

Los Angeles made sure to take what was given, turning the failed Cardinals drive into a 55-yard field goal.

Arizona didn’t wave the white flag, however, responding with a one-yard touchdown run from James Conner to stop the bleeding and stymy Los Angeles’ momentum. The running back proved to be the catalyst of the offense, catching all nine of his targets for 94 yards, while adding another 31 yards and two scores on the ground in the loss.

But right there to answer was the Rams, who chipped in another field goal — this time from 35 yards out — to retake a 13-10 lead with just 38 seconds left in the half.

For most, that wouldn’t be nearly enough time to drive the ball down the field for a last-second score before halftime. That wasn’t the case for head coach Kliff Kingsbury and Murray.

Starting from their own 25-yard line, Murray extended plays with his legs while Kingsbury successfully managed his timeouts to the point where Arizona had one last shot to either find the end zone or kick a long field goal, or so we thought.

With 10 seconds left, Murray escaped a Rams pass rush bearing down, scrambling for 16 yards before jumping out of bounds with just one tick left on the clock and setting up a successful Matt Prater field goal to tie the game. For how ugly of a half it was for the Cardinals, tying things up was a big win for the home team.

Unfortunately for Arizona, that momentum shift would be short-lived.

Stafford and the Rams came out swinging in the second half, running two plays before the QB airmailed a 52-yard touchdown to a wide open Van Jefferson, Cardinals wide receivers coach Shawn Jefferson’s son.

The second half miscues poured over onto the offensive side of the ball as well, with Murray committing his second turnover of the day looking to make something happen. Instead, he found linebacker Leonard Floyd.

Once again, Stafford was there to convert the turnover into points, finding wide receiver Cooper Kupp for the four-yard touchdown and pushing the Rams’ lead to a lopsided 27-13 advantage. Stafford was public enemy No. 1 for Arizona on Monday, throwing for 287 yards and three touchdowns on 76.7% passing. His favorite target, Kupp, reeled in 13 catches for 123 yards and the score.

Murray’s interception marked the 11th turnover the Cardinals have committed at home this season, a glaring mark when compared to the team’s two turnovers on the road. The discrepancy has translated to a 3-3 mark at home and a 7-0 record on the road.

“Yeah, I mean I get asked this every week,” Kingsbury said when asked about the road-home split. “I don’t have a new answer. If I did, I would figure it out and get it right. But, we obviously have to play better in this stadium.

“I thought the crowd was incredible tonight. Great energy. I thought our guys played with great energy. We just, like I said, didn’t play a clean enough game.”

Despite the optics, Arizona was still very much in the game. It proved as much in the fourth quarter, with Conner scoring his second touchdown of the evening on an eight-yard direct snap before trading field goals to keep the Rams’ lead to just seven points and the Cardinals’ playoff-clinching hopes alive.

A successful onside kick, recovered by rookie linebacker Zaven Collins, set the stage for one last shot from the Cardinals at their own 48-yard line.

But much like the game’s first-half trend, Arizona was there to shoot itself in the foot once again with a holding call that negated a 15-yard run from Murray before a false start pushed the offense back even further.

Two plays later, Rams defensive lineman Aaron Donald’s third sack of the night would seal the Cardinals’ fate.

“Obviously it’s disappointing losing a division game on a stage like that,” defensive lineman Zach Allen said postgame. “I think there’s pros and cons with every loss. I think for us, obviously it’s clear we need to start faster.

“We can’t just waste a whole half of football and then just decide to turn it on. As a defense … we just got to tackle better. There’s still stuff work on if we want to do what we’re saying we want to do.”

With Monday night’s loss, the Cardinals are now in a tight race with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Green Bay Packers, who all sit at 10-3, for the top spot in the NFC.

The defeat also gives the Rams some life in terms of the NFC West race, with Los Angeles just a game back of Arizona for the division lead through four weeks.

“Every game is going to be crucial moving forward and we understand that and we’ve got some tough ones,” Kingsbury said. “So, we’ve got to flush this one. We’ve got six days before Detroit. We’ve got to get ready.

“We’re frustrated, we’re disappointed, but we’ll get back,” the head coach added.

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