Cardinals wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald prepares for the hit of safety Rodney McLeod that caused Fitzgerald's fumble Sunday in the Cards' loss.
The Cardinals were moving toward what would have been an attempt for a game-winning field goal, and after a 2014 season all about close wins and second-half comebacks, confidence wasn't a problem even after they had misfired much of the game against the Rams.
Three incomplete passes abruptly ended that thought, however, and for once, the script didn't play out.
"Those types of games we have won for two years," coach Bruce Arians said Monday, the day after the 24-22 loss. "It's the first one we've lost like that and it's a little hard to swallow."
The loss isn't ideal, especially coming at home, and not with so many what-ifs dotting the play-by-play. But after four
games, the Cardinals are 3-1 – just like 2014 – and are in first place in the NFC West.
They do face an imposing stretch of games. Six of the next eight are on the road (the bye week comes halfway through). After traveling to Detroit this coming week, the Cardinals will stay a week in West Virginia for practice before playing in Pittsburgh Oct. 18.
"We're not one of those kinds of teams that need to be humbled," wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald said. "But it's the NFL. I've been in it for a while. You're always to get served some humble pie. It's just how it happens in this business. Personally or as a team, it just happens that way. Good teams are able to be resilient."
Arians didn't have a ton to say Monday that he hadn't already said the evening before – "The same statistics that were on the sheet after the game are here this morning, so there's no news," he quipped – and the issues were plain. There wasn't enough execution in the red zone, there were breakdowns in gap responsibilities during Todd Gurley's runs, and there were far too many turnovers.
The last three Cardinals plays – all incomplete passes with two yards needed for a first down – featured open receivers and "decent" protection, Arians said. While every single play and playcall is reviewed afterward, Arians wasn't wondering if he should have run the ball.
"Once you start second-guessing yourself, it's time to get out of the business," Arians said.
There are things to correct. Arians lamented bad communication on the offensive line, which led to misplays in blocking.
Quarterback Carson Palmer, while he generally played well, was errant on a few passes that were needed – especially on the final possession.
As frustrating as it was, Arians again noted that one more completion and a field goal and the Cards would be 4-0.
"Even with wins you have mistakes but when you win people forget about the mistakes you made," linebacker LaMarr Woodley said. "When you lose everyone points out the mistakes. If we would've won that game by a field goal, we still would have had a lot of mistakes."
The Cardinals do go on the road for two games but in each case, their opponent is playing a road Monday night game the game before far from home. The Lions play in Seattle; next week, the Steelers play at San Diego on Monday.
Last year, the Cards lost in Denver and came back off their bye to win six straight. That too marked the team in 2014.
"I think that sometimes these things are a blessing in disguise, just because I think this team will respond exactly the way it's supposed to," Palmer said. "We will come back."
As for the head coach's assessment after a quarter of the season?
"I'm happy we are in first place," Arians said. "Would like to have had that game. Hopefully this won't come back to haunt us."
The top images from the Cardinals' 24-22 loss to the Rams on Sunday