The Cardinals, in a game where they could find easily find warts, still had a chance to drive for the winning points Sunday.
They trailed by six with 1:42 left, 75 yards from the end zone. It's the stuff that daydreams – and NFL Films – are made of. Except the Cardinals weren't able to go anywhere, any potential dissolving into many of the issues that are plaguing the offense and quarterback Kyler Murray of late.
On first down, with the Steelers playing a deep zone, Murray took a sack. On second down, behind the sticks and under heavy pressure, Murray dropped the ball while scrambling, leading to a second sack. Third- and fourth-down heaves were simply prayers, the last throw an interception.
Murray noted that after the initial sack "it went downhill from there."
"You're obviously in a bad situation when they're rushing four, running (stunts)," center A.Q Shipley said. "We have to look at the film, obviously, but whether it was pressure that made (Murray) run away, we just have to do a better job holding up and managing that situation. We had two rough two-minute drives with Tampa, and then this one."
Murray threw four interceptions and was sacked 20 times in the first four games of the year, and in both categories, he had dramatically improved until the last couple of games. He was sacked six times against the Rams and then five against the Steelers – although two of those, again, came on that last drive.
(Pro Football Focus analysts say that of the 46 sacks Murray has absorbed this season, they believe 21 of them can be blamed on Murray.)
"As a couple of these losses have stacked up he's trying to do a little too much, trying to win it by himself," coach Kliff Kingsbury said Monday. "He needs to get back into a rhythm and where you're trying to do your job. Negative plays have popped back up the last couple of weeks. We've got to avoid sacks and we can't turn the ball over."
The Buccaneers' loss was a near-carbon copy of the last-drive situation, the Cardinals getting the ball with 1:43 left on the clock, trailing by three, at their own 25. The Cardinals netted 13 yards before the clock ran out.
Against the Lions in the season opener, their giant deficit made almost the entire fourth quarter a two-minute drill. But Murray and the offense took over with 2:31 left on their own 40 down 8, and Murray directed a game-tying drive, including the needed two-point conversion.
A week later in Baltimore, the Cardinals got the ball back with 3:48 left, trailing by six, at their own 9. They lost 6 yards, punted, and never got the ball back.
The Cardinals, like all teams, practice such late-game possibilities. But practice is not a game. The pressure of the moment – whether it be by the defense or the situation – cannot be replicated.
Players have to know the details, wide receiver Christian Kirk said, such as the time, timeouts remaining, being in the right place at the right time.
"It's about staying on schedule," Kirk said. "Negative plays kill you in those situations."
That's what doomed the Cardinals Sunday, that initial sack not only setting the Cardinals back but also forcing receivers who had run far downfield to scramble back to the line of scrimmage, the seconds ticking down.
Murray would've liked to pull off the final drive. But the quarterback also knew, after throwing his first two interceptions that cost points, the Steelers' loss shouldn't have come down to that.
"Two interceptions doesn't spook me or anything like that," Murray said. "It's just a little frustrating that I put us in that position. I feel like if we would've just taken the points or I didn't turn the ball over (earlier), we would have been fine, we would have won the game, and everyone would be happy right now. That's the frustrating part."