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Cardinals Have Chances But Come Up Painfully Short In Houston

Two fourth-quarter drives end without points in 21-16 loss

Cardinals linebacker Dennis Gardeck pressures Texans quarterback C.J. Stroud as Stroud launches what turned out to be a 40-yard touchdown pass Sunday in Houston.
Cardinals linebacker Dennis Gardeck pressures Texans quarterback C.J. Stroud as Stroud launches what turned out to be a 40-yard touchdown pass Sunday in Houston.

HOUSTON – Kyler Murray sat facing his locker, full uniform, for almost the entirety of postgame Sunday afternoon at NRG Stadium, mulling what he and the Cardinals could have done.

In the aftermath of a frustrating 21-16 loss to the Houston Texans, it would've been difficult to feel any other way.

"I feel like offensively, myself, had enough chances to win the game, let the team down," Murray said. "That's how I feel.

"The defense did what it needed to do and we didn't hold up our end."

Twice the Cardinals (2-9) got inside the Texans 30-yard line in the fourth quarter. Three fourth-quarter possessions, the Cardinals went for it on fourth down. In every case, Murray and the offense could not convert. When the game is only a five-point difference, the pain is palpable.

"This game was the epitome of details matter," left tackle D.J. Humphries said.

The shame is how it wasted a remarkable second half by the defense. The Texans (7-4) did have rookie C.J. Stroud, whose 259 first-half passing yards led a 333-yard first half that looked like it would eventually crush the Cardinals. It was 21-10 at the half and didn't feel that close.

Yet by game's end, the defense rallied. It intercepted Stroud three times -- once each by Jalen Thompson, Krys Barnes and Antonio Hamilton. It was Stroud's first three-interception game since arriving at Ohio State in college.

The Texans only had 86 yards in the second half.

"It was a tale of two halves," linebacker Josh Woods said. "We were settling in. Players adapted. It's the NFL. Teams aren't going to rack up 600 yards. Teams figure it out."

Had Murray – who finished 20-of-30 for 214 yards, a touchdown and an interception, along with 51 yards rushing and a score – and the offense been able to carry over its first possession, all would have been perfect.

Murray launched a perfect 48-yard touchdown bomb to Rondale Moore on the game's first drive, and the crowd was quickly silenced. But the Cards only had three more first-half points, and with the defense playing the way it was, that was trouble.

But Murray weaved his way into the end zone on fourth-and-goal from just outside the 1 in the third quarter, the deficit was trimmed to five, and Stroud was looking human.

"Any stadium, any team, you know you have a chance (with Kyler)," Humphries said.

And indeed, that's what it looked like would happen, even after the first two fourth-down fails. The Cardinals had the ball at the Houston 29 with a first down and two minutes to go in the game. But a pass to running back James Conner lost five yards, and after a seven-yard pass to tight end Geoff Swaim, two passes to Hollywood Brown were incomplete.

"You can see what you can be," Swaim said. "We have to consistently be who we are."

Coach Jonathan Gannon praised his team for going "toe-to-toe" with an opponent who would be in the playoffs right now. Stroud finished with 336 yards passing, and Texans running back Devin Singletary had 112 rushing, but the success was muted by Stroud's turnovers.

"(DC) Nick (Rallis) called it a little differently, the players executed a little better," Gannon said. "Thise three turnovers got us back in the game."

The belief, Gannon said, has been there. It was there before Murray returned and it hasn't changed.

But Murray was hurting, and his wide receivers sat staring into space after the game.  

"There are no moral victories," Murray said. "This one is going to sting."