Kyler Murray-led Cardinals fumble late lead, lose on Chargers 2-point conversion
The Los Angeles Chargers came in at 5-5 with their playoff chances fading.
And so with the Arizona Cardinals (4-8) leading 24-17 until a Chargers touchdown drive with 15 seconds left in regulation, head coach Brandon Staley staked a bit on one play. Justin Herbert connected with tight end Gerald Everett on a quick slant to go ahead 25-24.
The Cardinals would not challenge on their last-ditch possession.
For most of the day, it felt like Arizona, coming off its lowest moment of the season in a blowout loss against the San Francisco 49ers last week, had reset its season for good.
Maybe it was the close-to-full-cupboard of Cardinals receivers with Hollywood Brown joining DeAndre Hopkins and Robbie Anderson.
Maybe it was a reported hashing out between quarterback Kyler Murray and head coach Kliff Kingsbury in the past two weeks as the former dealt with a hamstring injury.
In any case, the Cardinals (4-7) started hot against Los Angeles (5-5) at home on Sunday.
And then came a few old, bad habits. Nonetheless, the Cardinals led 17-14 at the half.
Arizona came out operating at a high level out of the break as well. The team went 44 yards in six plays only to stall and see kicker Matt Prater miss a 49-yard field goal attempt, but the offense closed the job the next touch with an 11-play drive that ended with a James Conner six-yard touchdown catch with 13:31 left that gave the Cardinals a 24-17 lead.
It went south from there from an offensive perspective.
That score held until the Cardinals, who put together three three-and-outs to end the fourth quarter, had to punt at the two-minute warning.
The trio of possessions all burned no more than 1:45 off the clock. Los Angeles, seemingly for the first time on the day, stumped multiple Conner runs. Murray twice couldn’t connect with rookie tight end Trey McBride as the passing game also fell apart.
Arizona’s defense had to put the game away. It did not, allowing the Chargers to go 38 yards in 1:33 to get the touchdown and later the two-point conversion.
Both sides of the ball looked good to start.
Murray hit his first six passes and was 11-of-17 for 116 passing yards with 38 more on the ground in the first half.
The running game operated well with assistant Steve Heiden taking over run game coordinating duties after the dismissal of Sean Kugler before last week’s Monday night game in Mexico. Running backs Conner and Keaontay Ingram, plus Murray, combined for 110 yards and a 5.5 yards-per-carry average in the first half.
Aside from a Conner fumble to spoil Arizona’s first drive, it looked like cake. A 10-play, 82-yard second possession for the Cardinals ended on a 33-yard catch-and-run by Hopkins to put Arizona ahead 7-0 with 2:33 left in the first quarter.
— Arizona Cardinals (@AZCardinals) November 27, 2022
Arizona got a field goal on its third drive to go ahead 10-0.
The defense at first showed up, too. For just the third time in 12 games, Arizona held an opponent scoreless on its opening possession of the game.
The Cardinals got early sacks by J.J. Watt and Cameron Thomas coming off the edge and attacking rookie left tackle Jamaree Salyer. Zach Allen and Myjai Sanders added batted passes on the line to spoil plays as well.
But the Chargers gained traction on their fourth drive. A fumble by receiver Joshua Palmer was overturned from being recovered by Arizona to keep the Los Angeles possession alive, and quarterback Justin Herbert hit Keenan Allen for a two-yard score to make it a 10-7 Arizona lead with 8:51 left in the half.
Then came the inexplicable play calls — or quarterback decisions — on Arizona’s next touch.
With a third-and-1 on the Cardinals’ 34-yard line, the Cardinals opted for a Murray read-option that was sniffed out for no gain. On fourth-and-1, Murray underthrew a touch throw well down the field while targeting Hopkins. It was picked off by safety Derwin James — a high-difficulty downfield play when the Chargers had been diced up by Conner and the run game to that point.
Los Angeles scored a touchdown five plays later.
The Cardinals got back to their running ways to go ahead with 12 seconds left in the second quarter. They went 75 yards in 14 plays over four minutes, running the ball eight times. Murray rushed three times himself, closing the drive with a five-yard touchdown.
A @K1 touchdown run!
— NFL (@NFL) November 27, 2022