The last time the Cardinals went to SoFi Stadium, the playoffs were at stake -- and it didn't end the way they wanted.
They return there Sunday, their postseason chances not in the balance. But their chance to remain undefeated and their chance to end a losing streak against the Los Angeles Rams still creates a playoff-type atmosphere in an early NFC West showdown.
"I mean, they've been better than us," quarterback Kyler Murray said. "We've pretty much got our asses kicked every time we played them. And we remember how the season ended in an ugly way in that aspect. But all that is out the window. As far as being a competitor goes. These are the ones you got to embrace. I'm excited for it."
The Cardinals haven't beaten the Rams since 2016. Kliff Kingsbury and Murray have yet to beat Sean McVay since becoming head coach in 2019, a span of four attempts. Since becoming the Cardinals' quarterback, Murray has posted his fewest passing yards, lowest completion percentage, and most interceptions against the Rams compared to the other two division foes.
It's why the Cardinals enter Sunday motivated, anxious to conquer their demons against a team that has dominated them. The 18-7 Week 17 loss certainly factors in.
New Rams quarterback Matthew Stafford wasn't in that game, but he is no stranger to the Cardinals. Despite playing 12 NFL seasons in Detroit, the veteran has faced them more than any team outside the NFC North, and is 3-0-1 against the Cards since 2017.
Though Jared Goff guided the Rams to a Super Bowl appearance in 2019, Kingsbury said he's not surprised Stafford, who can throw 75 yards off his back foot, has opened up McVay's offense.
"Stafford makes throws a normal starting quarterback can't," Kingsbury said. "His arm talent is legendary."
Sunday marks first time Stafford and Murray face as division rivals. Both quarterbacks highlight the early MVP discussion in 2021, being among four signal-callers with at least nine touchdowns this season. In three games, combined, they have thrown for nearly 2,000 yards with a 121.3 passer rating.
Much of that success is supported by diverse wide receiver production – both teams have top-five passing attacks in the NFL. Outside of the individual sizzling matchup between DeAndre Hopkins and Jalen Ramsey, whichever secondary best limits the opposing high-powered offense may decide the game.
The pass rush will also be a factor. The Cardinals and Rams have the two best team pass-blocking grades in the NFL, according to Pro Football Focus. But the Cardinals' front seven includes Chandler Jones and J.J. Watt, two rushers who've accumulated among the most sacks in the NFL since 2012. The Rams feature three-time Defensive Player of the Year, Aaron Donald, with the most sacks in the NFL since being drafted in 2014.
For the Cardinals to win its biggest game of the year so far and end their losing streak against the Rams, putting consistent pressure on Stafford will be critical, as well as protecting Murray from the Rams' vaunted pass rush.
"I've never seen anything like (Donald) – on tape – and the guys I've talked to around the league say the same thing," Kingsbury said. "There's no way to stop him; you just have to try to do things and neutralize him the best you can."