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Got To Be Starting Something: Cardinals Fall Behind In Loss To Rams

First-quarter woes continue in 20-12 defeat to Super Bowl champs

Cardinals defensive end J.J. Watt sacks Rams quarterback Matthew Stafford during Sunday's game at State Farm Stadium.
Cardinals defensive end J.J. Watt sacks Rams quarterback Matthew Stafford during Sunday's game at State Farm Stadium.

Kyler Murray walked slowly into the interview room after Sunday's game, his uniform pants still part of his outfit, the slight remnants of eye black on his face.

He knew the question about slow starts was coming, the hole the Cardinals fell into once again Sunday before eventually losing to the Los Angeles Rams, 20-12, at State Farm Stadium.

"I wish I had the answer right now," the Cardinals quarterback said, before taking a deep breath.

"I'm not sure. That's not winning football. We make it tough on ourselves."

The score was close, and the Cardinals (1-2) did have their chances to rally. But it was a weird game, marked by Cardinals' scoring drives of 16, 17 and 19 plays – all of which ended in field goals – and an odd defensive performance that was certainly helped by the way the offense held on to the ball.

The Rams (2-1) were outgained, 365-339, and the Cardinals had 81 offensive plays to the Rams' 46.

Yet, here the Cardinals sit, stuck with a seventh straight home loss and the knowledge they haven't beaten the Rams at home since 2014.

"No one feels good after a loss," said tight end Zach Ertz, who criticized his own play and lamented a potential touchdown catch he couldn't hang on to in the first half. "Everyone is kind of frustrated. We need to put a full 60 minutes together. That's the goal.

"Until we do that, we won't know how good of a team we can be. When we do that, we will have a better barometer of ourselves."

The Cardinals may have lost yet another wide receiver after A.J. Green went down with a left knee injury. If he is out, the Cardinals could potentially be without four of their top five wideouts – DeAndre Hopkins, Rondale Moore, Green and Antoine Wesley – for their game in Carolina next week.

Marquise "Hollywood" Brown had by far his best game since his arrival, with 14 catches for 140 yards on 17 targets. But the pair of deep passes to Brown both fell incomplete, including one where Murray likely had a touchdown had he not slightly overthrown the pass.

Greg Dortch's 30-yard catch at the end of the first half to set up a field goal remains the Cardinals' longest offensive play of the season.

Coach Kliff Kingsbury said the grind-it-out offense was not the plan coming in.

"We didn't execute great, we didn't call a great game, and when you get behind, you kind of get one-dimensional," Kingsbury said. "A lot of the gameplan we thought we would execute, we didn't get to."

Murray threw a career-high 58 passes, completing 37 of them for 318 yards. The quarterback said the long drives can be helpful, because it kept the Rams' potent offense off the field. But, he added, "the majority of the time, you have to put the ball in the end zone."

The reality is the Cardinals normally would feel great about their defense in holding the Rams to 20 points (including a goal-line forced fumble by safety Budda Baker that was recovered by fellow safety Jalen Thompson.)

They'd feel ecstatic that Cooper Kupp would only have four catches for 44 yards (although he did have a 20-yard jet-sweep TD run.)

But no one expected the Cardinals offense to sputter quite like this. The Cardinals are the lone NFL team not to score yet in the first quarter.

"We've got to execute better," tackle Kelvin Beachum said. "I know that sounds very cliché, but at the end of the day, you have to find a way to execute. … In a game that's close and tight, we need the '7.' "

Despite all that, the Cardinals had the ball at the Los Angeles 26 with 11:35 left trailing by 9 facing a fourth-and-4. Kingsbury eschewed the field goal try to cut the lead to a one-score eight-point deficit. Murray's pass to Brown was broken up.

"I didn't think field goals would get it done," Kingsbury said.

After Baker's big forced fumble, however, the Cardinals had the same 11-point deficit with time running down. The Cardinals eventually kicked a field goal with a little more than a minute left before the Rams recovered the onside kick.

There would be no repeat of the crazy overtime win against the Raiders the week before.

"You can't have miracle comebacks every single week," defensive end J.J, Watt said. "You have to play sound football and put yourself in a good position early and we're not doing that right now." 

The Cardinals go back on the road for their next game, a path that has been more fruitful. But they play against the Panthers, a team that has given them trouble. A first-quarter dud would cause more problems.

"That first quarter is just, you know," Murray said. "Can't make (expletive) happen, can't get anything going, it's just bad. It's bad football."