The Cardinals only wanted one thing for Christmas, and they had complete control over whether they got it.
But the Cards didn't have much control Saturday night at State Farm Stadium, not with multiple penalties or ill-timed mistakes. There was no gift waiting at the end of the night, the long-desired playoff spot, after a hard 22-16 loss to the Indianapolis Colts.
It was a third straight loss for the Cardinals (10-5), dropping them for the time being out of first place in the NFC West for the first time this season.
"We're in a tough spot," running back Chase Edmonds said. "We've got to band together. We know what is going to come next, with the noise. We have to become 1-0 next week."
The Cardinals can still clinch a playoff spot Sunday if either the Vikings or Eagles lose, or Monday if the Saints lose. Backing into the postseason wasn't what they wanted, however, not when just two weeks ago they would have all but sealed up the division title had they just beaten the Rams.
Now it's the Rams leading the division going into their game with the Vikings.
The talk in the locker room after the game were the proverbial "self-inflicted wounds." Coach Kliff Kingsbury talked about them, as did a couple of team leaders. A drop by Christian Kirk on the first drive of the game. Three false starts from guard Josh Jones, including one on a fourth-and-1 at the Indianapolis 29 that led to an incompletion on fourth down – which the Cardinals went for in part because of an early missed field goal by kicker Matt Prater. A bad snap that led to a safety.
"We feel it, you see it, and good teams don't do that," quarterback Kyler Murray said. "We weren't doing that early in the season and now you see it's killing us in crucial moments. We're not scoring touchdowns because of it and vice versa on the other side of the ball, as a collective group on offensively and defensively, it's just mental mistakes you can't keep making.
"If we want to win these games that we know we're supposed to be winning … it's bad football."
The Colts (9-6) came into the game 8-0 when running back Jonathan Taylor rushed for at least 100 yards and 0-6 in games he did not. The defense didn't do a bad job, but Taylor ended up with 108 yards on 27 carries, especially since he had a 43-yard run on the Colts' first play.
Colts quarterback Carson Wentz wasn't great, but he had two impressive TD passes, didn't turn the ball over (he did lose a fumble on a Chandler Jones strip-sack, but it was negated by illegal contact in the secondary) and was good enough.
It felt like the Cardinals could've been good enough. They only punted once and did not turn the ball over but continue to struggle to find offensive consistency, especially in the red zone. Penalties overall were a huge problem -- 11 for 85 yards.
"Offensively, I feel we were OK," said Edmonds, who with James Conner out with a heel injury rushed for 56 yards and a touchdown and added another 71 yards in eight catches. "I just feel like there were key moments when we didn't convert or key moments when we didn't make plays."
The Colts were missing four starters on defense -- including Defensive Player of the Year candidate Darius Leonard -- and three starting offensive linemen, the latter number growing to four in-game (plus top tight end Jack Doyle.)
"How we started the season and these (issues) weren't showing up and now they're showing up," Kingsbury said. "The answers are in that locker room and those coach's offices and we've got to figure it out."
The Cardinals were without punter Andy Lee, which was a problem because he is also the holder for Prater. Prater ended up missing two field goals and an extra point, valuable tallies in a game when the Cards needed everything they could get.
"I have to see the operation and what happened there," Kingsbury said.
The Cardinals had more passing yards and more rushing yards than the Colts. That's why the bullet holes to the Cards' collective feet were the main talking point. The Cardinals, after starting 7-0, have gone 3-5 in their last eight games.
They travel to Dallas (10-4), another team they are battling in the playoff seeding, next week.
"Guys have to really lock in these last two weeks," Edmonds said. "I know it's easy to say that, but it's crunch time right now."