DAN BICKLEY

Pressure on Cardinals’ Kingsbury builds after Payton rumors, loss to Chargers

Nov 27, 2022, 6:43 PM | Updated: Nov 28, 2022, 11:01 am

GLENDALE — From death to dysfunction, the Cardinals have had a lot of bad days in 2022.

This was one of the worst.

A 25-24 loss to the Chargers wasn’t fueled by behind-the-scenes drama, the kind that can be sanitized for America’s viewing pleasure. It wasn’t a closed-door mystery that will never be explained. It was thievery in waning daylight, a sucker punch at sunset that stunned the gathering at State Farm Stadium.

The Cardinals lost because a two-point conversion was too easy for the opponent. They lost because Matt Prater missed a field goal and Zaven Collins couldn’t control an interception. They lost because a pair of reversed calls played a role in the outcome.

They lost because of their offense. An offense that inexplicably went for it on fourth-and-1 from their own 34-yard line in the first half, only to finish the game in a timid shell, posting three consecutive three-and-outs with a chance to cement the victory. An offense that produced just 16 yards in its final 11 plays.

After the game, Kliff Kingsbury said this loss didn’t hurt worse than any of the previous seven.

“No,” he said. “You lose in this league, they’re all tough, week in and week out. Give them a lot of credit. They hung in there and that call at the end was big time.”

To his credit, Chargers head coach Brandon Staley might’ve saved his own job with that riveting conclusion, including a decisive, well-executed two-point conversion.

As for Kingsbury?

NFL teams often use the bye week as a convenient time to fire a bungling head coach. That’s not likely to happen in Arizona, no matter how painful the ending on Sunday. But the latest loss will only raise the temperature and the volume of critics in the Valley, especially after reports that Sean Payton could be eyeing the situation closely.

Payton is a no-nonsense impact coach who has won a Super Bowl and maxed out a short quarterback (Drew Brees) in New Orleans. He would be perfect in Arizona, and everyone knows it. Which means Kingsbury needs a strong finish in 2022 to quell the narrative. And for a while, the Cardinals complied against the Chargers.

They displayed a real commitment to the running game, leaning heavily on James Conner. Kyler Murray borrowed a page from Colt McCoy’s playbook, throwing the ball quickly and decisively. The debut of receiving tandem DeAndre Hopkins and Hollywood Brown showed great promise. And there was an encouraging pregame report that Kingsbury and Murray had smoothed over tensions and issues during the two weeks that McCoy was forced into duty.

But the Cardinals are now 4-8. The fan base is frothing for real change. And Kingsbury’s reign in Arizona clearly bottomed out in Mexico City, when his team was obliterated by the 49ers and an assistant coach, Sean Kugler, was terminated for groping a female the night before the game.

The Cardinals have already put the NFL in a tough spot, having to scrub excessive drama from its Hard Knocks series, which has negatively affected the credibility of the show. But the Kugler incident took it to another level because it embarrassed the organization on foreign soil, as part of the league’s global goodwill initiative.

The lack of internal discipline is a recurring theme in the Kingsbury tenure, and Michael Bidwill couldn’t have been happy with the team’s direction or its culture after that loss in Mexico City. Not after it embarrassed his franchise at the NFL level.

Maybe the owner feels better after a competitive showing at home, on a rare occasion when the Cardinals started the game with much greater urgency and desperation than their opponent. A game that the Cardinals truly deserved to win.

“It’s all about trying to get better at this point,” Kingsbury said. “I still think our best football is in front of us.”

Kingsbury better be right about that. Because he hasn’t been right about much in 2022.

Reach Bickley at dbickley@arizonasports.com. Listen to Bickley & Marotta weekdays from 6 – 10 a.m. on Arizona Sports.

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