Rapid reactions: Cardinals’ season ends with underwhelming loss to Rams
The Arizona Cardinals 2021 season is officially over.
Kliff Kingsbury and Kyler Murray’s first career playoff game ended in a 34-11 loss to the Los Angeles Rams in the Wild Card round on Monday night at SoFi Stadium.
That caps off a season in which the Cardinals started out 7-0 — including being 10-2 after Week 13 — only to finish the season 1-4 and limp into the playoffs for the first time since 2015 at 11-6.
Here are the main takeaways from our Arizona Sports hosts, reporters and editors.
John Gambadoro, co-host of Burns & Gambo: It was wishful thinking to believe the Cardinals had a snowball’s chance in hell of winning this game — anyone who thought Arizona was going to win was basing it solely on Matthew Stafford’s career history of never winning a playoff game and recent history of throwing the ball to the other team.
Reality check: Arizona sunk like the Titanic after a 10-2 start. They lost to the Rams, Lions, Colts and Seattle in their final five games with only a win against a bad Cowboys team mixed in. Now with this loss. make it six of their final seven games.
Arizona was never in this game, they went three-and-out on their first four possessions and that was actually better than their next two, which resulted in an interception for a touchdown and another interception. But not to worry because after the two Kyler Murray picks, they went right back to another three-and-out. It was a pathetic half of football for the Cardinals, with a total of 28 yards passing by a quarterback who we thought the moment would not be too big for. We thought wrong.
Now that the Rams embarrassed, humiliated and punked the Cardinals in a playoff game, we can get down to what really matters. What to do with the coach and roster?
Maybe Kyler is not worthy of $40 million a year but he is still in my opinion worthy of a contract extension that keeps him as the Cardinals quarterback for the foreseeable future. Kliff is debatable. This late-season collapse leaves an ugly stain on what should have been a very rewarding season: 11 wins and a playoff appearance is nothing to sneeze at.
BUT it is so hard to not think about the late-season slide and IF Kliff is capable of taking this team any further than this. My best judgment is he gets a modest extension to stay as coach because hey they did go from three wins under Steve Wilks to five, eight and now 11 under Kliff.
Several players played their last game with the Cardinals — mainly Chandler Jones — who outside of a five-sack performance in the opener, gave Arizona little to nothing each week. Although his numbers were good for a free agent wide receiver, I can’t see A.J. Green coming back either. Jordan Hicks, Robert Alford, Andy Isabella, Devon Kennard and Max Garcia are all are free agents and all likely gone. Christian Kirk, James Connor, Zach Ertz, Maxx Williams and Chase Edmonds are players Arizona likes but money and health will dictate whether they are back or not.
Arizona, unlike the rest of the NFC West, does have its first-round pick and some cap space. At some point, we may appreciate this season for the 11 wins and a playoff appearance. Now is not that time.
Dave Burns, co-host of Burns & Gambo: Humiliation. Elimination. And now what’s required is some heavy-duty, Grade-A contemplation. You lose a playoff game like that after ending a season like that and everything is on the table. A season that started 7-0, ended 4-7. The first weekend of December the Cards were 10-2 and rocking the best record in the NFL. They were in command of their destiny. Five losses in the six games since have left them in crumbles.
Let’s start with Kyler. It was stunning how overwhelmed he was by the moment. It was too big for him to take in, too fast for him to make any sense of it. He was rattled, panicked and ill-prepared. Other quarterbacks – this season Joe Burrow comes to mind but in the past, there have been others – used the postseason as the ultimate showcase for their abilities. Of course, if you look hard enough, you’ll find quarterbacks who struggled in the early stages of their postseason career only to have great success later. It’s been three years of Kyler Murray and he’s had moments of sheer athletic brilliance throughout. But in the end, he leaves us wanting so much more and asking the question why. Why have you not won a game when a playoff berth was on the line? Why were you so inadequate when your coach was so sure you were made for this moment? Kyler perfectly exemplifies the difference between being a “stud” and “the guy.” After three years, I know he’s the former but am clueless if he is the latter.
Speaking of coach Kliff Kingsbury; I don’t think anything will happen with him by the time you read this. And I’m pretty sure nothing will any time after that either. Three to five to eight to 11 wins and a playoff spot typically doesn’t get you shown the door. But losing five of the last six games, authoring yet another foul ending to a season and getting embarrassed in his playoff debut hasn’t answered any of the questions about whether he belongs here. Fire him? Probably not. Extend him? Absolutely not. Trust him? Ah, that’s the tricky one, isn’t it? Because if you’re the Cardinals organization and you have questions about whether anything is going to be any better next year, that puts you in a precarious spot. If you can’t trust him to do something he very rarely does – finish a season strong – do you really want to take the chance he’ll figure it out next December? If the answer is no, then you might have your answer now.
There are so many other decisions of course. A.J. Green (nope-nope-nope), Christian Kirk, Zach Ertz, James Conner, Chase Edmonds, Chandler Jones. There’s a tricky matter of not being great against the run even though you’ve drafted two interior linebackers in the last two drafts (thanks to Blake Allen Murphy for pointing that out on Twitter). In many ways, I thought this was one of Steve Keim’s best years. But like everything else with this team, the way it ended has called into question whether the way it started was actually as strong as it seemed. They’ve won one playoff game since he was put in charge of the roster. That too has to be addressed.
Luke Lapinski, co-host of Wolf & Luke: Here are some of the things we all spent the last week talking about:
The Cardinals need to make Matthew Stafford uncomfortable. They need to slow the Rams’ running game down and make them one-dimensional. They need to be more physical. They need to control the line of scrimmage. They need to commit to the run. They need to get James Conner involved early. Kyler needs to take control of the game. One of the receivers needs to step up. They need to win the turnover battle. They need to keep Cooper Kupp out of the end zone. They need to take advantage of the fact LA’s missing two safeties. They need to convert on their third downs. The defense needs to get off the field on the Rams’ third downs.
None of those things happened. And then Budda got hurt. There was literally nothing good about this game.
Tyler Drake, Cardinals reporter and ArizonaSports.com editor: Can someone check and see if the real Arizona Cardinals were left on the tarmac at Sky Harbor?
That was bad.
The Cardinals were outcoached, outplayed and out-energized from the kick. J.J. Watt’s return was written over by an absolute beatdown at the hands of the Rams.
Kliff Kingsbury looked defeated after the first quarter and the defense had zero answers for Matthew Stafford and Co.
Getting back to the postseason was undoubtedly an accomplishment, but finishing the regular season 1-4 before turning in a dud of a Wild Card game only adds to the cannot-win-late narrative Kingsbury has built over his coaching career dating back to his Texas Tech days.
General manager Steve Keim went out and added a number of glue guys with solid leadership qualities to try and turn the page on the last few years. The initial showing was exactly what the team was looking for. The second half was anything but.
You never really hear about head coaches getting thrown on the hot seat after making their first postseason, but the optics of not only this loss, but the second-half fall-off for a second straight season are glaring. I don’t expect a crazy head-coaching change, but I’ve gotta imagine the leash is that much shorter.
7-0 seems like ions ago.