Rapid reactions: Empty drives cost Cardinals in loss to Chargers

Nov 27, 2022, 6:22 PM | Updated: Nov 28, 2022, 11:01 am

The Los Angeles Chargers willed their way to a go-ahead score via a two-point conversion, and the Arizona Cardinals lost a Week 12 home game that means their to-do list remaining for this team has everything to do with looking ahead to 2023.

Our Arizona Sports hosts, editors and reporters dissect what they saw in the Cardinals’ 25-24 loss to the Chargers.

John Gambadoro, co-host of Burns & Gambo: It’s a hard-knock life if you are a Cardinals fan. The agony of defeat has been commonplace for the team this year. And versus the Chargers, they found a new way to lose. Take the lead in the second half, go three-and-out on three straight possessions and then give up a touchdown and two-point conversion in the final seconds to fall to 4-8.

The Cardinals actually played well enough to win — until they didn’t. The back-to-back-to-back three-and-outs were well a real backbreaker. Up 24-17 if Arizona could have tacked on a field goal or even milked some clock, maybe this loss doesn’t happen. But it did. Matt Prater missed a 49-yard field goal in the second half. Zaven Collins had an interception overturned because the ball came loose.

Their final three-and-out gave the Chargers the ball at the Cardinals’ 38-yard line after a 20-yard return and penalty tacked on. Justin Herbert then delivered, completing a third-and-7 screen pass to Austin Ekeler for 10 yards, then the touchdown to Ekeler and two-point conversion pass to tight end Gerald Everett. The Cardinals defense was spent, so going for two and the game made a lot of sense for Los Angeles.

Kyler Murray came back and played well. James Conner and the running game were very good for most of the afternoon. Hollywood Brown returned to action and had six catches. Heck, even Robbie Anderson caught a ball. But it wasn’t enough. This Cardinals offense should be more dynamic and 24 points, while it might be enough for other teams, is not enough for Arizona.

The Cardinals had the ball three times with chances to put the game on ice and failed. Kind of like their season, which has been for all intent and purposes an epic fail after a playoff appearance last season.

Vince Marotta, co-host of Bickley & Marotta: New week. New way to lose for the Arizona Cardinals.

After getting run off the field in Mexico City last Monday night by the 49ers, the Cardinals were in a position to salt a win away against the Los Angeles Chargers on Sunday. Instead, a conservative fourth-quarter offensive approach failed and opened the door for Justin Herbert, and the Chargers quarterback walked right in.

Herbert capped a short 38-yard drive with a 1-yard touchdown pass to Austin Ekeler with 15 seconds left and then hit Gerald Everett on a well-designed two-point conversion to give the Chargers a 25-24 win.

Once again, it was a handful of plays that buried the Cardinals in a loss:

  • With Arizona leading 10-0 in the second quarter, LA’s Joshua Palmer fumbled. The ruling on the field was that Cardinals cornerback Trayvon Mullen made the recovery for the Cardinals at the bottom of the pile. After a television timeout, referee Ron Torbert reversed the call and ruled a Chargers recovery when there was nothing that could have possibly existed from a video replay standpoint that would have led to a definitive overturn. Los Angeles would score its first touchdown six plays later.
  • Later in the second quarter, facing a third-and-1 at their own 34-yard line, Kyler Murray ran for no gain. At that point, James Conner had been running through the Chargers’ defense like a hot knife through butter. So then on 4th-and-1, Kingsbury called a pass play, and Murray’s deep shot to DeAndre Hopkins was intercepted by Derwin James. The Chargers would turn that pick into more points as Herbert hit DeAndre Carter on a 33-yard touchdown five plays later to give his team its first lead.
  • On the first drive of the third quarter, with the Cardinals leading 17-14, Conner got a handoff on a third-and-10 at the Los Angeles 37-yard line — a conservative call — leading to a missed 49-yard field goal attempt by Matt Prater. It was Prater’s first miss of the year.
  • And after taking a 24-17 lead on a Murray-to-Conner touchdown pass early in the fourth quarter, the Cardinals had three offensive possessions. All three were three-and-outs. They gained a net of 16 yards and punted each time. In the second of those three possessions, a third-down pass from Murray to rookie tight end Trey McBride was dropped.
  • The last of those three punts was a 50-yarder by Andy Lee, but the coverage team allowed a 20-yard return by Carter to set the Chargers up at the Cardinals’ 38.

We knew this before Sunday: The Cardinals don’t know how to win games that are up for grabs.

This one was new. The Cardinals had a 10-0 lead early, which is usually a sign of a victory coming.

But after they took that 10-point lead, the defense immediately allowed a methodical 11-play, 75-yard touchdown drive by the Chargers (and yes, I know that was the drive that included the mysterious overturned fumble). Arizona’s defense still couldn’t keep the Chargers out of the end zone.

I’d say the bye week is coming at a good time for the Cardinals, but it’s really not. A bye week for a team not in the postseason discussion just prolongs the agony.

Dave Burns, co-host of Burns & Gambo: Even when there is nothing to play for, no playoff positioning to be gained, it was easy to feel throughout this game how a simple win would have lightened the mood. For the 2022 Cardinals, nothing is simple. Disappointment has been the constant companion this year, even in a game in which the Cards appeared to do many things well. At least, well enough to win.

The Cardinals were by no means in control of this game but certainly, they were in a position to deliver what would have been their most satisfying win. They ran the ball well, only trailed for roughly three minutes, outgained and out-possessed a team that still had plenty to play for. For much of the game, it felt as if we were trending toward a break from the gloom.

The biggest problem proved to be the three straight three-and-outs in the fourth quarter. Combined, those possessions took about three and a half minutes off the clock, including the last of the bunch which only shaved off 19 seconds. A first down here, a first down there and the Cards probably are heading into the bye week with a little buzz and some temporary good vibes.

But the drop by rookie tight end McBride and the inability to get anything going offensively in the fourth quarter was a problem. Their defense at the end was as well. For all the strides Isaiah Simmons has made this year, the Chargers seemed to know they could put him in a blender on that two-point conversion. One of the easiest conversions you’ll see.

So now what? The bye is finally here, and with it comes the most natural mid-season window to move on from Kliff Kingsbury if they were so inclined. Something tells me they won’t be. Between the Kingsbury contract extension, the cameras of Hard Knocks (you can’t not show that, right?), and the reported de-escalation between Kingsbury and Kyler Murray, it all suggests to me that they’ll ride this out through the end of the year. But in a season that started with everybody so worried about how it would end, we should have been just as concerned with how it began.

Tyler Drake, Cardinals reporter and co-host of the Cardinals Corner podcast: Happy trails to any remaining slivers of hope for this 2022 Cardinals team. Arizona seemed like it was the superior team for a half of football, utilizing the run game behind James Conner against a porous Chargers rush defense. An overturned fumble recovery took some of the wind out of the sails, but Arizona still managed to take a lead into halftime.

Then came a second half of the wheels absolutely falling off. There was a missed FG, poor decisions on third down, ugly throws from Kyler Murray and a defense that looked gassed once again after a strong showing early on.

It’s on to next season for this Cardinals team, who should use these last five games of the season to do some serious soul-searching. And it starts at the top. It’s safe to say changes are needed. As my wife texted me when the game was over, “even when they play OK, they still lose!” I’m sure she’s not the only one in that boat after what we all just witnessed at State Farm Stadium.

Kevin Zimmerman, lead editor: Where the Cardinals allocated their efforts and money this offseason again enters the focus with the eighth loss of the season. Yes, the Cardinals responded well with effort after the Monday disaster in Mexico and seemingly smoothed over their season-long offensive issues for most of the game. There were a few curious decisions in the play-calling department. But even well into the second half, things looked better with Kyler Murray having an easy time moving the ball with DeAndre Hopkins and Hollywood Brown on the field together for the first time.

Then came the three three-and-outs that preceded the Chargers’ heroic late drive and gutsy two-point conversion to take a one-point lead.

Those possessions saw some combination of the star quarterback and offensive-minded head coach fail. All those drives burned 1:45 or less time off the clock. None looked particularly like Kingsbury was reaching into the well of plays they knew could beat Los Angeles after more than a half of deciphering that defense. It was bland yet again.

On defense for the Cardinals, there was enough playmaking and pressure on Chargers quarterback Justin Herbert to pull out a win. True, that side of the ball didn’t make the plays when it counted. But when you put all your efforts into arming the offense and banking so much on defensive draft picks who’d not shown enough to warrant bigger roles, well, that’s what happens.

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