DETROIT -- There would be no clinching of a playoff spot Sunday.
There would be no moving closer to an NFC West title, or an eighth straight road win, or avoiding a losing streak in 2021.
The Cardinals played their worst game of the season at Ford Field in a 30-12 loss, and while coach Kliff Kingsbury has been emphasizing for his team to be playing its best football as the season comes to an end, the showing against the Lions was anything but.
Kingsbury said his team was "pissed," and quarterback Kyler Murray added that the Cardinals weren't prepared for a game where the Lions obviously were.
"We know who we are," Murray said. "We know the guys we have in the locker room, we've got the talent, we've got the coaches, we've got the leadership. It's about locking in and playing to our capabilities.
"Screw everything else, pretty much. We have to be how we were at the beginning of the season."
The Cardinals (10-4), less than a week removed from having a chance to take a chokehold on a division title, now could be tied in the standings on Tuesday if the Rams beat the Seahawks in Los Angeles. (The Cards will still officially be in first place by virtue of a better division record.)
"Momentum is real in the NFL, good and bad," tight end Zach Ertz said, adding, "it's up to the players. The coaching schemes are the same ones that we were freaking rolling with."
The Cowboys, leading the NFC East, also have a 10-4 record. The Cardinals play in Dallas in two weeks, following a Christmas night home game against the surging Colts (8-6).
It's that schedule that made Sunday's game so crucial, and disappointing. The Cardinals had been great on the road, not only winning their first seven but also doing it by double digits each time. The Lions (2-11-1) have played hard under first-year coach Dan Campbell, but are undermanned.
Asked what he'd say to those who believe the Cardinals should not have lost such a game, linebacker Jordan Hicks was blunt: "I would agree."
"This is an unacceptable loss," Hicks added. "We weren't ourselves today."
The Cardinals are missing top wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins, likely out for the season with a knee injury, but they had overcome Hopkins' absence earlier in the season. They also had running back Chase Edmonds back.
But from a first quarter in which the Cardinals were outgained, 124-5, the Cards never could find their footing.
The decisive swing came late in the first half. Murray finally got the offense moving, and the Cardinals had a first-and-goal at the Detroit 6-yard line. But they could only reach the 3, and Kingsbury eschewed a field goal in order to go on fourth down. A slant to Antoine Wesley fell incomplete.
Trapped back at their own 3, the Lions -- with help from two Cardinals roughing-the-passer penalties -- went 97 yards to score on a 22-yard touchdown pass from Jared Goff to Josh Reynolds for a 17-0 lead with 19 seconds left.
The Cardinals couldn't climb out of that hole. There was a brief moment of hope in the third quarter. The Cards got a field goal and then forced a fumble. But on the second play, Murray tried a deep out route to A.J. Green that was picked off by cornerback Amani Oruwariye and returned all the way to the Arizona 6. The next play, the Lions got Goff TD pass and the game was all but decided.
"We've got to get a lead for our defense," Ertz said. "If we don't get a lead, we're not the team we should be."
There was never any rhythm on offense, Kingsbury said. Passes were uncharacteristically dropped, Murray was too often off target, and the QB was also running to avoid way too many pass rushers that got in with little resistance. Eventually, Kingsbury acknowledged, players started to press more than they should have.
"There's no such thing as a 17-point touchdown and we've got to approach it that way if we get in this situation again," Kingsbury said.
Former Rams quarterback Jared Goff was sharp and continuing making life tough for the Cardinals. Goff was 21-for-26 for 216 yards, and is now 4-0 all-time in starts against Kingsbury's Cards and actually helps his former team.
Lions running back Craig Reynolds also ran for 112 yards.
The Cardinals, now 3-4 in their last seven games, don't want to finish out the season struggling mightily, as they did a season ago in missing the postseason. But asked about avoiding the narrative building around the team, Kingsbury sees a simple solution.
"I don't think it's about narratives," Kingsbury said. "We just have to get better."