The Arizona Cardinals started the 2021 season 7-0. Then, they were 10-2 and still flying. It was a historic season for Arizona, regardless of the ending. However, Arizona tarnished early-season success with late-season inadequacy. Their struggles in December bled into January, and their stumbling at the end of the regular season culminated in Monday night’s embarrassing loss to the Los Angeles Rams.
Make no mistake, the Rams are an excellent football team; the Cardinals lost against much worse teams this season. Yet this was still Arizona’s worst loss of the year. The Rams outplayed and outcoached them in front of the nation, a performance typical of this team in primetime. It was an embarrassing, brutal end to a promising year for the Cardinals. Now, the post-mortem must begin on a failure of a Cardinals season.
Arizona Cardinals Season Ends in Embarrassing Loss to Rams
Offensive Catastrophe Ends Cardinals Season
To be clear, no unit played well for Arizona. However, the offensive performance was woeful. Kyler Murray is Arizona’s guy; this season, he played well enough to warrant a ‘franchise quarterback’ moniker from some. Unfortunately, in his first playoff game, he could not get anything done. Murray played in adverse circumstances, with poor play from the offensive line and receiving corps, but this is a player that two months ago was a front runner for MVP. Coming out of his first playoff game with a passer rating of only 10.7, Murray’s performance was emblematic of Arizona’s struggles. He is still undoubtedly ‘the guy’ in Arizona, but this showing might have been K1’s most disappointing of his Cardinals career.
As for K2, Kliff Kingsbury’s playoff debut was no better. Arizona’s head coach struggled to respond to the setbacks suffered by his offense over the last month, and his play-calling was ineffective. Again, like Murray, some blame should be deflected to the rest of the group; Kingsbury’s lateral pass play showed some guile, but it was poorly executed. However, Kingsbury showed enough early in the year that his late-season performances should be considered very poor indeed. This is an offensive mastermind that catapulted his group to the summit of the league’s rankings. Producing negative four yards in the first quarter, 40 at the half, and only 183 overall, Arizona’s offense played an awful game, and Kingsbury certainly played a role in that catastrophe.
Interceptions Emblematic of Key Struggles in Cardinals Season
In truth, what the Cardinals showed on offense is less surprising to fans, who have seen their once league-leading offense sputter to a halt over the last month. The same problems that plagued the unit during the latter part of the regular season expectedly reared their ugly head against the Rams. It is now painfully clear what this offense needs to succeed: the return of DeAndre Hopkins, and reinforcement at guard.
The picks that Murray threw reflect all too well the issues with this unit. Murray has his fair share of responsibility on both terrible plays, but recurring themes caused further problems. Right guard was a turnstile, as it has been all season, which is why Aaron Donald lined up over Max Garcia all game. Between instant interior pressure and inadequacy out in the pattern, Murray was hardly helped by his teammates.
Hindsight is 20:20, and Cardinals fans should remember that the dynamism of their quarterback sometimes can come at a price. Murray’s pick-six was a horrible play, but the talented signal-caller pulled out that escape throw several times during the 2021 season, and was praised for it. The execution was off during that play Monday night, granted, but that is just the day Arizona had. Similarly, the botched screen was dreadful, but James Conner has been great for the Cardinals; usually, his catch attempts do not fly 10 feet in the air.
Cardinals Defense Ineffective
Arizona’s defense had a near-insurmountable task. Cooper Kupp and Matthew Stafford took the league by storm this year and are still cruising. Aside from a few plays, the Rams had their way with Arizona. The triumphant return of J.J. Watt did very little to reinforce Arizona’s critically poor run defense, and they allowed several big plays early on Monday night. Just as on offense, it was familiar issues that torpedoed Arizona’s defensive performance. Marco Wilson looked promising early on this year, but over the last few weeks, he has been a pincushion for opposing offenses. He has been targeted heavily, as he was against the Rams, and he has not looked good.
The loss of Budda Baker was a terrible one for Arizona’s defense and the franchise as a whole. A scary collision saw Baker stretchered off the field. With the game more or less decided, the incident was a frightening gut punch for a wounded Cardinals group. Baker was able to tweet later Monday evening that he was ‘doing good,’ and fans will continue to pray for his prompt recovery.
Monday night was nothing short of an embarrassment. J.J. Watt branded the loss, and the Cardinals season, ‘a failure.’ Murray echoed a similar sentiment, as Arizona’s once-promising season crashed to a disappointing end. The same issues that arose during the regular season ultimately sunk this team, as they always threatened to do. Unfortunately, the way this team has played, it was a fitting end; a discredit to the team that soared early this season. At least there is always next season.