CARDINALS CORNER

James Conner’s big day can’t make up for Cardinals’ lack of finish vs. L.A.

Nov 27, 2022, 8:25 PM | Updated: Nov 28, 2022, 11:00 am

GLENDALE — For the first time all season, the Arizona Cardinals had their top two receiving threats in DeAndre Hopkins and Hollywood Brown on the field together.

But while Cardinals fans finally got their first glimpse of the highly anticipated pairing, which combined for 133 yards and a TD on 10 catches, it was the team’s rushing attack behind James Conner that stole the show in the team’s Week 12 matchup against the Los Angeles Chargers.

Racking up 120 of the team’s 181 rushing yards — along with one pesky first-quarter fumble — Conner was fed early and often, totaling 25 carries.

It marks the first 100-yard game for Conner as a Cardinal and the first time he passed the century mark since Week 6 of the 2020 season. It came as the Cardinals played their second week without former run game coordinator and offensive line coach Sean Kugler, who was fired after allegedly groping a woman while the team was in Mexico City last week.

But for all the good Conner did with the football in hands on Sunday — he also caught three passes or 20 yards and touchdown — it was not enough in Arizona’s heartbreaking 25-24 loss that shuts the door on any remaining playoff hope.

“We lost the game, so it’s tough,” Conner said after the game. “The workload, I wanted to get it going, I felt like it was long overdue for me personally in the run game to get something going. It just sucks we lost the game. It wasn’t enough.

“It’s hard to have feelings about (putting up my first 100-yard game as a Cardinal). I’m just trying to do my job, run hard and just get something, try to be a spark for the offense. All I can do personally is build on that and that’s pretty much it.”

Much like the rest of this broken-record season for the Cardinals, they once again could not get out of their own way.

After watching Conner run wild for just over two quarters of play, the Cardinals looked like they had the Chargers’ number.

But a late third-quarter field goal miss from Matt Prater and a trio of fourth-quarter three-and-outs to essentially end the game snubbed out any of the good the team had put together at State Farm Stadium.

The longest drive of the three possessions spanned just 1:45, wrecking any kind of momentum that was still somehow on Arizona’s side and further gassing a defense that had held up well against one of the best passers in the NFL, Chargers quarterback Justin Herbert.

The last of the three possessions in question was by far the most egregious and gave L.A. all the momentum, chewing up just 31 seconds of clock and traveling three yards in a three-play span.

The writing was on the wall at that point.

“The whole game we pretty much had what we wanted,” quarterback Kyler Murray said. “Our four-minute offense execution lost us the game. The defense, I don’t think they should have been in the position (they were put in.) We had three chances, three drives to put it away and didn’t. That’s pretty much the name of the game I feel like.

“Offensively, I thought we played well until the fourth quarter and those drives. When we needed it the most, we didn’t make it happen and that’s on us.”

It wasn’t like the defense was giving up gobs after gobs of game-changing plays, either.

For most of the first half, Los Angeles looked completely out of sync. Running back Austin Ekeler dropped an early pass and saw his snaps decrease for a few drives, while Herbert had little time to get the ball out with J.J. Watt and Arizona’s pass rush doing its job.

When the dust settled on the game, four Cardinals players recorded sacks on Sunday. As a unit, the team racked up six passes defensed.

But over the course of the final three full possessions for each side, the defense just couldn’t lock up the win as it watched the Chargers offense burn up most of the remaining 1:48 on the clock before finding pay dirt on Herbert’s third touchdown strike of the day, then converting the two-point try to take the lead for good.

With yet another loss on Arizona’s record, playoffs are a pipe dream at this point in the season. FiveThiryEight projects the Cardinals with a 1% shot of making the postseason heading into Sunday night.

If it wasn’t already, it’s look-in-the-mirror-time for this Cardinals franchise, and it starts with using the bye week to its advantage.

“It’s a bad taste in your mouth,” Conner said Sunday. “Guys were playing hard so it wasn’t nothing effort related, just execution, which is just as important. Just got to go back and try to reset and not look too far ahead — I know there’s going to be playoff talk and whatnot — but just got to go back and reset and get back to work.”

Safety Budda Baker, who finished with five tackles on the afternoon, echoed Conner’s sentiment knowing there’s still a good chunk of football on the docket, regardless of where this team sits in the NFL standings.

“Rest, rejuvenate, recover, be with your families, but at the end of the day when it’s time to work, we work at work,” Baker said when asked what his message to the team was heading into the bye.

“We got five more opportunities, take the best of those opportunities because this league, it stands for ‘Not For Long’ and we got five more opportunities to play some good football and that’s the plan that we’re going to do.”

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