DAN BICKLEY

Loss to Colts is yet another embarrassment for teetering Cardinals

Dec 25, 2021, 10:52 PM | Updated: Dec 27, 2021, 7:16 am
Kyler Murray #1 of the Arizona Cardinals throws a pass around Jahleel Addae #41 of the Indianapolis...
Kyler Murray #1 of the Arizona Cardinals throws a pass around Jahleel Addae #41 of the Indianapolis Colts but is called for a intentional grounding penalty and a safety during the second quarter at State Farm Stadium on December 25, 2021 in Glendale, Arizona. (Photo by Chris Coduto/Getty Images)
(Photo by Chris Coduto/Getty Images)

GLENDALE — Moonwalking is no way to enter the NFL playoffs. Unfortunately, the Arizona Cardinals are stuck on the same old song and dance.

Their 22-16 loss to the decimated Indianapolis Colts was yet another embarrassment for a teetering program. It marked their fourth consecutive loss at State Farm Stadium. It represented their fifth loss in their past eight games.

Most alarming, it is the fifth consecutive whiff on a playoff-clinching game for Kliff Kingsbury’s crew in the past two seasons.

Punching their playoff ticket is the moment they cannot meet, the hill they cannot climb, the hurdle they cannot clear. And with each missed opportunity, the pressure only gets worse.

“All you have to do is get in. That’s all you have to do,” Cardinals quarterback Kyler Murray said. “But we don’t want to get in playing the way we are playing.”

There are multiple opportunities for the Cardinals to back into a playoff berth on Sunday, salvaging a rough Christmas for Valley sports fans. But that will not change the optics in Arizona, where our NFL franchise has been gifted three prime-time games at home in 2021, and has underwhelmed in every single one of them.

They lost to the Packers, Rams and Colts, all on national television, against a trio of opponents that were all hit by serious adversity before taking the field in Glendale. That’s no way to change a national perception.

So what’s happening here?

Energy was not an issue against the Colts. The team seemed in high spirits. They showed up eager and ready to play. Budda Baker produced his best game of the season, flying all over the field.

Colts star Jonathan Taylor wasn’t the issue, either. After busting out a 43-yard run on his first carry of the game, the Cardinals mostly smothered the MVP candidate, preying on the Colts’ depleted offensive line.

“I think our guys played hard on that side of the ball,” Kingsbury said.

The problem is the same recipe that dogged Kingsbury’s crew during the great collapse of 2020. There are too many mental errors and avoidable penalties. There is a serious lack of discipline in key moments. Well-coached teams get better as a season progresses, and that hasn’t happened in Arizona over the past two seasons. Murray accused the Cardinals of “bad football” in critical situations, and he’s not wrong.

“We feel it. You see it,” he said. “Good teams don’t do that … we have to look ourselves in the mirror and stop making these mistakes.”

But how? The Cardinals can’t seem to find a way to resolve the recurring snapping issues that arise when Rodney Hudson is not on the field. Against the Colts, they had to replace the holder on the fly after two missed kicks from Matt Prater.

Kingsbury is very effective when things are going well. But pulling a team out of the ditch is not one of his specialties.

The problem is also the offense. After an ugly loss to the Lions, Carson Palmer and Drew Stanton both questioned the leadership deficiencies of Murray, calling him out for bad body language. Murray cleaned that up on Saturday night, but he has now been outplayed by Matthew Stafford, Jared Goff and Carson Wentz in succession. That is not acceptable.

The slide also began after a loss to L.A. when Rams star Aaron Donald led a defense that produced a staggering 40 quarterback pressures, 34 hurries and four sacks. The fearsome Donald pressured Murray 15 times all by himself.

Granted, missing Hudson and DeAndre Hopkins makes a huge difference in the flow of the offense. But Murray hasn’t looked nearly as comfortable ever since that loss to the Rams.

“We have more than enough playmakers on offense to get the job done,” Chase Edmonds said.

Murray said the Cardinals wouldn’t succeed on any level of football in their current state. Edmonds also said the team needs to “band together and ignore the noise.”

The latter is really good advice because it’s going to get very loud around here. And there’s only one solution for a football team that is losing all credibility and all the magic that once accompanied a 7-0 start:

Start winning immediately. Or invest in some really good earplugs.

Reach Bickley at dbickley@arizonasports.com. Listen to Bickley & Marotta mornings from 6 a.m. – 10 a.m. on 98.7 FM Arizona’s Sports Station.

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