Let the post-mortems begin after a forgettable night in Los Angeles.
It’s difficult to imagine the Cardinals playing any worse than they did in the 34-11 playoff loss to the Rams.
They couldn’t run (block). They couldn’t pass (block). They couldn’t protect. And the defense allowed six plays of 22 yards or more after Seattle gashed them for frequent explosive plays in the regular-season finale.
The first half was as ugly as could be.
The offense was truly offensive making the final 30 minutes an afterthought.
It’s difficult to fathom that Arizona’s first five possessions were three-and-outs, although the fifth actually ended with an interception return for a touchdown after a horrible decision by quarterback Kyler Murray, blindly tossing the ball from his own end zone while attempting to avoid a safety.
The problem is that he did the same thing on Christmas Day against Indianapolis, when he was lucky to avoid being intercepted, but the result was a safety after he was called for intentional grounding. A safety would have been a better result Monday night.
Yes, it could be argued that Murray is the gift that keeps on giving, but that’s somewhat unfair because he has been mostly under siege thanks to a porous offensive line for several games down the stretch and a lack of weapons.
Wide receiver A.J. Green needed to step up after wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins was lost because of a knee injury, but he was inconsistent. Green did have a few big plays, but in the final five games, he had 12 receptions on 29 targets for 194 yards. However, take away three big plays, and his total was 92 yards on nine receptions.
Against the Seahawks, he had four catches on nine targets for 23 yards and was shut out Monday night on three targets. One was a drop on a second-quarter replay reversal that would have gained 22 yards when the score was still 14-0. The end-zone interception occurred on the next play.
But back to the three-and-outs. Three of the five produced minus yardage and the 15 plays netted minus-1 yard. On the sixth possession, there was some semblance of life with 35 yards gained on seven plays, but that drive also ended with an interception.
The next possession was also a three-and-out that totaled six yards of offense. Those yards came on a third-and-15 short pass.
That’s six three-and-outs in the first half totaling five yards on 18 plays.
Let’s not also forget what would have been a 22-yard play completion on third down from wide receiver Christian Kirk to running back James Conner, but Kirk’s pass was a second forward pass resulting in a five-yard penalty and loss of down.
In the first half, the Cardinals were outgained 180-40 and they were 0-for-6 on third down. Murray was 7-for-17 for 28 yards and a microscopic 9.3 passer rating. Arizona had the ball for 10:45 to 19:15 for the Rams.
For the game, the Cardinals gained 183 yards and averaged 3.4 yard per play a week after averaging 4.2 against the Seahawks.
They never managed a first down on third down, coming up empty on nine attempts. The average yards to go was 11.7 with six of 11 yards or more, including two of 15 and one each of 16 and 17.
How bad was Murray on third down? He was 3-for-8 for 12 yards and the end-zone interception. Ouch.
Afterward, head coach Kliff Kingsbury said, “I think experience is a big part of it. There's only one way to experience playoff football and that's to go through it and unfortunately we didn't play our best game. I thought L.A. played a great game, had a great plan and outplayed us and out-coached us. But I think you just got to go through these moments and learn from it and grow from it and use it as motivation.”
There’s some truth to that, but some of the issues are deeper. Surely, not having Hopkins for seven games and the final five including Monday down the stretch affected the offense.
And while outside noise when things go bad usually focuses on the play-caller and the quarterback, the reality is the Cardinals still need upgrades and more physical play on the offensive line.
That was the goal of the last offseason and the result was the acquisition of center Rodney Hudson. He was instrumental in helping keep a battered line together through a dizzying array of injuries, but he can’t do it alone. That group seemed to wear down in the final weeks.
After Monday’s loss, a question addressed the examination that occurred in the offseason of what happened in the last part of 2020 and how it repeated itself this year. Kingsbury acknowledged, “We just got to keep looking at it, keep trying to find new ways to improve later on in the season. Whatever that may be. That's definitely a priority this offseason.”
That surely won’t erase the sting of the way the season ended, but in retrospect it wasn’t all that surprising considering what this team had to overcome all season.
When they were able to overcome considerable adversity in the first half of the season, the assumption was it would continue.
However, the NFL is an unforgiving league and often it just grinds a team down.
After all, four games in a not-so-super Wild Card weekend were decided by a total of 90 points, with the Patriots leading the way with a 30-point dismembering by Buffalo.
The NFL, at times, can even make Bill Belichick look human.