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Cardinals Head Into Season Motivated By Frustrating Playoff Miss

With new players, moving forward important but feeling 'never goes away'

Linebacker Chandler Jones (left) and quarterback Kyler Murray share smiles before a training camp practice.
Linebacker Chandler Jones (left) and quarterback Kyler Murray share smiles before a training camp practice.

The right answer, the expected answer, is that the Cardinals have moved on from their disappointing finish of 2020.

Kyler Murray spoke about the new season, and new teammates. Then he was asked just when he got past the anger and disappointment of missing the postseason after the Cardinals began last season 6-3, and the quarterback shook his head.

"That never goes away," Murray said. "Not making the playoffs two years in a row, that's not fun."

When the Cardinals opened training camp, coach Kliff Kingsbury made sure to address the 2-5 finish, the reality that the Cards had needed just one win in their final two games – both against backup quarterbacks – to reach the playoffs and didn't do it.

The idea was to acknowledge and then embrace 2021. But it's hard to get past the idea that 2021 will at least partially be seen – and evaluated – through the prism of 2020.

"I need to address the elephant in the room," running back Chase Edmonds said. "We felt like we were very disappointed with the way the season ended. To come out, be 6-3, it looks like you have a good chance to get to the playoffs. We put it on ourselves -- we folded. Point blank, period."

The Cards are a different team. Larry Fitzgerald, Patrick Peterson, Haason Reddick and Kenyan Drake aren't around. A.J. Green, Malcolm Butler, J.J. Watt and James Conner are. Yet to hear holdovers like Edmonds and wide receiver Christian Kirk, that finish is motivation this season.

It's one of the reasons Kingsbury wanted to bring it up in the initial team meeting, not only to talk to those who were around, but to make sure the newcomers understood.

"Nobody was happy with how that ended," Kingsbury said. "It was an abrupt end."

Watt – whose Texans finished 4-12 last season and were never in the playoff chase – said those new to team need to be able to understand the leftover frustration.

"You have to know what these guys went through last year and what mindset they are in going into this season," Watt said. "I come in with a fresh mindset and an open mind about what can happen and all the beautiful possibilities that can happen here.

"If someone who was here last year thinks, 'Oh, we lost this game like this because of this,' there can already be a negative connotation to something I have zero negative connotation attached to it. It's part of my job to remind that person, 'It doesn't have to be that way.' "

What grinds at Murray is the way the Cardinals ended up on the outside looking in. The most stalled drives in the league. The penalties. The offense that got off the tracks late in the season. The inability to beat the 49ers and Rams in Weeks 16 and 17 when both were beatable.

The list of things the Cards need to fix such an ending sound like simple clichés. Pay attention to detail. Play better situational football. Finish at the end.

Earlier in the offseason, GM Steve Keim insisted the Cardinals addition of older veterans wasn't a sign of an all-in push for the playoffs this season. But it doesn't mean that burden won't be felt, because of what the fanbase has seen, and because of how the players feel.

"I play quarterback. I can't let it eat me alive," Murray said. "But at the end of the season when you don't make the playoffs, everyone should have that feel of anger and wanting to get back out there."

Images from the Back Together Saturday practice from training camp.