DAN BICKLEY

Home no longer a safe haven after Cardinals’ MNF loss to Rams

Dec 13, 2021, 10:27 PM | Updated: Dec 14, 2021, 12:12 am
Van Jefferson #12 of the Los Angeles Rams catches a touchdown pass against the Arizona Cardinals du...
Van Jefferson #12 of the Los Angeles Rams catches a touchdown pass against the Arizona Cardinals during the third quarter at State Farm Stadium on December 13, 2021 in Glendale, Arizona. (Photo by Norm Hall/Getty Images)
(Photo by Norm Hall/Getty Images)

GLENDALE — Home is no longer a safe haven. The nest has become a pest.

The Arizona Cardinals lost a big game on Monday Night Football, falling 30-23 to the rival Los Angeles Rams at State Farm Stadium. They lost an even bigger opportunity.

When the dust had settled, Kliff Kingsbury’s Cardinals are now 0-3 in playoff-clinching games.

This loss has serious Ram-ifications. The Cardinals relinquished their grip on the No. 1 seed in the NFC, which is considered a golden ticket in the 2021 playoffs, where only one team in each conference gets a first-round bye.

Now, the road to the Super Bowl might require a trip to frigid Lambeau Field in January.

They ushered the Rams back into the division race, a team that was rocked by bad news on Monday afternoon, when star cornerback Jalen Ramsey and tight end Tyler Higbee ended up on the Covid-19 list.

So where did it all go wrong?

“The turnovers, the two fourth-down stops in their territory,” Kingsbury said after the game. “You have to give them credit. They made the plays when they had to and we didn’t.”

Start with Kyler Murray. In the NFL, the month of December is all about quarterbacks. The Rams’ Matthew Stafford shook off his critics with a vintage performance, displaying his monstrous arm talent at various points of the game. To the contrary, Murray threw a pair of costly interceptions and missed a wide-open A.J. Green for a sure touchdown.

Kingsbury also noted how proud he was of his young quarterback for fighting through the failures and all the duress he faced during the game.

Meanwhile, Sean McVay earned a measure of revenge against Kingsbury for a Week 4 drubbing in Los Angeles, as Kingsbury was thoroughly outcoached on most scorecards. It was a tough deal for the Cardinals head coach, who was on the brink of his greatest triumph, a man who had been endorsed for Coach of the Year earlier in the day by Patriots mastermind Bill Belichick.

To prevail, the Rams leaned hard into their marquee performers, as Stafford, Cooper Kupp, Odell Beckham Jr. and Aaron Donald all delivered star performances.

The Cardinals weren’t so fortunate. DeAndre Hopkins dropped a pass on a crucial fourth down. The rushing game stalled out early. Mistakes and penalties littered the field. The pass rush rarely affected Stafford, and for the first time this season, the Cardinals’ secondary was picked apart.

It all made for a dreadful evening of football, leaving a troubling question in its wake:

Why does this team struggle so mightily at home?

The Cardinals are unbeaten on the road but only 3-3 at home. They have underwhelmed in two home losses on national television, assuring that national respect will not be forthcoming anytime soon. They have two turnovers on the road in 2021 and 11 at home, where Murray seems much more prone to throw costly interceptions.

The lack of a home-field advantage is stunning, especially since the Cardinals were supported by a raucous partisan crowd on Monday night. This one is squarely on the team, not those in attendance.

“I thought it was a great crowd, the best we’ve had,” Kingsbury said.

What a shame. A victory against the Rams would’ve all but sealed up the NFC West crown. The loss changes the landscape considerably, and after the game was over, ESPN’s calculus listed Tampa as new favorites for the No. 1 seed (42%), followed by Green Bay (37%) and Arizona (15%).

The Cardinals have caught some breaks in 2021. They caught the Titans sleepwalking in Week 1. They beat the Vikings when their kicker choked on a game-winning field goal attempt. They danced out of danger in Jacksonville when the Jaguars called the stupidest trick play of the season. They didn’t have to face Nick Chubb in Cleveland.

Now, they’ve caught a wave of adversity. It’s proof that life comes at you fast, especially in the NFL. Buckle up.

Dan Bickley

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