Jae C. Hong/Associated Press
For most of the 2021 regular season, there was plenty of praise for quarterback Kyler Murray and head coach Kliff Kingsbury of the Arizona Cardinals. That praise wasn’t undeserved either — Arizona got off to a 7-0 start and sported one of the league’s most electrifying offenses. The team’s young quarterback could be the next Russell Wilson. The head coach could be the next Kyle Shanahan.
The pair could combine to form the NFL’s next big couple.
But for the second time in as many seasons, as fall turned into winter, some of that praise turned into grumbling as the Redbirds suffered a late-season slump. It wasn’t enough to keep Arizona out of the playoffs, and some pundits (including this writer) believed the Redbirds would close Wild Card weekend with a victory over the rival Los Angeles Rams.
This does not happen. What happened was much more than a faint – it was an embarrassing 34-11 loss in which the Kingsbury Cardinals were ejected from the field in all aspects of the game and Murray played arguably the worst game ever. of his NFL career.
Jae C. Hong/Associated Press
It was an abyssal end to a promising season. One that leads to a few questions. First, how justified was this praise of Murray and Kingsbury? And two, are the coach and quarterback a power couple destined for a long run together or a couple heading for divorce?
Might as well put that aside: Kyler Murray was terrible against the Rams. Well and really terrible.
Like ESPN’s Josh Weinfuss reported, before Monday’s meltdown, Murray said he used the teachings of Bruce Lee as a tool to help him stay calm and centered.
“Bruce’s philosophies, it softens you up,” Murray said. “You mentioned trusting your judgement, your instincts, your skills, whatever you’ve been working on. It kind of gives you a sense of confidence and, like I said, it calms the mind. for me.”
Then the game started… and Murray was hit in the face with a crane.
Taken as a whole, Murray’s numbers are bad enough — the 24-year-old completed 19 of 34 passes for 137 yards and two interceptions. But the real story of just how putrid Murray was is in his first half stats – seven completed passes on 17 attempts for 28 yards and interceptions. In the first 30 minutes, Murray’s passer rating was 9.3.
Hey, that’s just 149 points less than perfect.
Then there is this.
At the very top of the list of things an NFL quarterback can’t do if he’s trailing by two playoff touchdowns, in bright red lettering from the six-foot Arizona Cardinals, it reads ” toss a ball sneakily at no one in particular while falling backwards into your own end zone.”
Nor is it the first time in the last month that Murray made an incredibly stupid play in his own end zone against a good team in a game the Cards ended up losing. On Christmas Eve, he did almost the exact same thing against the Colts. Nobody caught that pass, but Murray was whistled for failing and Indy got a safety.
Good to see he learned from that mistake.
That’s not to say Murray isn’t Arizona’s long-term solution at quarterback. That he won’t have a long, crazy career. And certainly, the loss of best wide DeAndre Hopkins played a part in Murray’s fall from play as the season progressed.
But Murray posted a triple-digit passer rating six times heading into Week 8 this season. After week 8, he did it twice. The defenses have begun to understand this. Prevent him from taking off big runs on the outside and put pressure on Murray, and he will make mistakes.
Of course, Murray wasn’t the only Cardinal who didn’t play well on Monday. This list has about 53 guys.
And that brings us to the head coach of the team.
Overall, the Cardinals were embarrassed Monday night. They were heavily outplayed in every facet of the game, from an inability to stop the run to the negative yardage the team “earned” in the first quarter.
Pro Tip: Negative footage is no good.
The Rams came out and punched Arizona in the mouth – and the Cardinals quickly fell apart.
After the match, Kingsbury said his team would use the abrupt end to this season as motivation for the future.
“We have to use that as motivation and come back stronger,” he said. told reporters.
You’d think the whole lesson of the ‘end-of-season meltdown’ would have been learned by Kingsbury by now.
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End of Kliff Kingsbury’s season as head coach… Texas Tech: • 2013: 5 of 6 lost • 2014: 4 of 6 lost • 15: 4 of 6 lost • 16: 6 of 8 lost • ’17 : 6 out of 8 lost • 2018: 5 out of 5 cardinals lost: • 2019: 7 out of 9 lost • 20 20: 5 out of 7 lost • 21 21: 5 out of 6 lost https://t.co/t7e0C1rWC7
It’s a staggering collection of collapses. And there’s a caveat that comes with Kingsbury’s time at Texas Tech: Power 5 college programs typically load up the schedule with non-conference cupcake games before facing better opponents later in the season.
But that doesn’t explain why Kingsbury’s teams crumble every season. In 2020, the Cardinals were 5-2 bye and 6-3 on Nov. 15. They went 8-8 and looked a bad Bears team in the playoffs. In 2021, the Cardinals were 10-2 before closing the regular season with four losses in five games, including a loss at the hands of the Detroit Lions.
The Cardinals have had one win since Dec. 5, and it was against a Dallas Cowboys team that was exposed in the Wild Card Round itself.
As an NFL season progresses, opponents will adapt to what a team does well and exploit what teams don’t. Over the past two seasons, Kingsbury (and defensive coordinator Vance Joseph, who deserves his share of the blame for Monday’s debacle) have seemed utterly incapable of making their own counter-adjustments. They do what works until it doesn’t, then they stop winning.
Then there’s this, from the post-game presser.
Kingsbury’s work is literally to prepare his team for the upcoming match. That’s why he makes a lot of money and lives in that palace we saw in the 2020 draft.
To admit that his team was not ready is to admit that he did not do his job.
It’s not beyond the realm of reason that those divorce papers could be served soon. After opening the season in the proverbial hot seat, the slide that ended in Monday’s humiliation by a division rival may have landed at Kingsbury on the right back on the grill.
But even if he survives another season, 2022 won’t start with talks of ‘next step’ for Kingsbury and Murray. There will be far less to say and write about the Super Bowl and Arizona’s hot start to 2021 than about five losses in six games to end the season, culminating in mockery at SoFi Stadium.
Hopefully, we’ll remain skeptical of Arizona’s potential offensive power couple, even if there’s another successful start to September. I doubt this duo has what it takes to really equalize to become a true NFL power couple.
Because so far, in games that really matter, we haven’t seen much evidence that they do.