The Arizona Cardinals' 2021 season is over after Monday's 34-11 Wild Card round loss to the Los Angeles Rams.
Arizona's year had its high peaks as it started 7-0, but the team finished 1-4 in the regular season before Monday's lopsided affair.
The Cardinals were in deep trouble early on. The offensive game plan to start out did not work as Arizona had four three-and-outs to start the game. It lost three net yards on those drives.
The Rams were up 14-0 before the Cardinals' first possession that did not end in a punt: an interception by quarterback Kyler Murray that was returned for a touchdown by cornerback David Long Jr.
Murray was being tackled in the end zone when he flung the ball to his right to avoid the safety. Long caught it and ran in for six.
"Got out of hand early," Murray said. "Got to run the ball against those guys. We got into a drop-back game and they got three of the best pass rushers along with good players in the back end.
"We didn't execute our game plan."
L.A. led 21-0 at the break, and Arizona had only 40 net yards on offense.
The Cardinals ran the ball seven times in the first half for 27 yards and threw it 17. They beat Los Angeles in Week 4 by balancing their run game and relying on it at times.
That did not happen here. The Cardinals handed it off once in their first six plays and were in a hole before they could even try to establish the ground game.
"When you get behind and we're kind of playing on our heels at times offensively and defensively, it just makes it tough to right the ship," head coach Kliff Kingsbury said postgame.
Murray was also under constant duress from the L.A. pass rush. The Rams collected a couple of sacks with five quarterback hits and did not allow Murray to step up in the pocket.
The first half felt like a downward spiral the Cardinals could not break out of.
"It's kind of hard to put into words," wide receiver Christian Kirk said. "Immediate response is embarrassing, especially in the first half the way we came out. Playing a good team like the Rams and coming out the way we did, you're not gonna win playoff games."
The Rams came out of halftime and pout together a 75-yard drive to increase the lead to 28-0.
The Cardinals had one touchdown drive in this game -- a 12-play, 68-yard possession -- but they did not come close to getting back within striking distance.
Arizona's defense was bailed out by a couple of Rams drops in the first half that could have led to an even uglier score.
L.A. gained 94 rushing yards in the opening 30 minutes. The play-action was set up and quarterback Matthew Stafford was accurate all game.
He had clean pockets to work from, and he had a clean performance after tying for the league lead in interceptions with 17 this season.
Los Angeles beat Arizona in Week 14 after dominating the trenches, and Monday's game looked similar in that respect.
The Rams played their game and did so well, but they were the same team Arizona has seen twice this year. Yet, the Cardinals were not ready for this game and were helpless when they fell behind.
Kingsbury said the team did not have playoff experience and they performed poorly in their first go at it.
But Arizona has played in do-or-die games before, games with playoff implications and have been mostly unsuccessful. This was not an isolated incident.
It's telling that there's a disconnect when defensive end J.J. Watt stepped up to the podium and called the season a "massive failure" based on what the Cardinals could have been versus how it ended.
Murray agreed with that, saying he plays to win the Super Bowl, not just make the playoffs.
"It's disappointing that we didn't make it a game and come out and play the football we know we're capable of playing," Murray said. "That's really the most disappointing part."
Two things can be true. Arizona was better than last season and took enough steps forward to make the playoffs. But, like last year when the 5-2 Cardinals ended 8-8 and finished outside the playoff picture, progress does not mean success.
Budda Baker update
Cardinals All-Pro safety Budda Baker was carted off the field in the third quarter after going low to make a hit on Rams running back Cam Akers only to have Akers lower his head, creating helmet-to-helmet contact.
Kingsbury had an update postgame: "(He) had feeling in everything, so he's at the hospital being examined now. Seems to be positive news that I've gotten so far."
He suffered a concussion, but he had movement in all his extremities, per Cardinals media relations.