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Missed Chance On Monday Night: Cardinals Fall To Rams

Playoff spot remains unclaimed after 30-23 loss

Cardinals quarterback Kyler Murray launches a pass during Monday night's game against the Rams.
Cardinals quarterback Kyler Murray launches a pass during Monday night's game against the Rams.

Credit Kliff Kingsbury for keeping his sense of humor, gallows as it may have been.

In a game when the Cardinals could have clinched a playoff spot and all but wrapped up the NFC West title, they struggled much too often in a 30-23 loss to the Los Angeles Rams at State Farm Stadium on "Monday Night Football."

It dragged the Cards' home record down to 3-3 this season – compared to 7-0 on the road – and took the team that had been atop the NFC standings for weeks down to No. 3, behind the Packers and the Buccaneers, and potentially costing the Cardinals home field in the playoffs.

"As of now, I probably want to lose every game and play on the road (in the playoffs) every week," Kingsbury said with a chuckle.

"We just want to improve every week, and make sure if we get in, we are playing our best football."

The mood for the Cardinals (10-3) was different this time than it was when they lost the heartbreaker to the Packers earlier this season. Again, it came down to the end – Zaven Collins managed to recover an onside kick with 34 seconds left, before two penalties short-circuited any miracle – but Kingsbury praised the effort as the best all season, just that the Cardinals didn't play a clean game.

The Rams were without multiple starters because of Covid, including All-Pro cornerback Jalen Ramsey. Quarterback Kyler Murray, who threw for 383 yards but had two interceptions and a season-low 65.3 completion percentage, actually was smiling in his press conference as stayed positive.

"We lost, and obviously everybody wanted to win," Murray said. "It was a big game for us. But I'm not discouraged by what happened."

What happened was simple. The Cardinals had their two turnovers. The Rams (9-4), who closed within a game of the division lead with four games left, had none.

The Cards are plus-17 in turnovers in their road games. At home? Now a minus-7.

The first Monday night game when the Cardinals, up 3-0, reached the Los Angeles 4-yard line, and Murray, trying to thread a pass into the end zone to tight end Zach Ertz, had the ball tipped by All-Pro defensive tackle Aaron Donald and picked off by linebacker Ernest Jones.

Had it not been tipped, Murray insisted, "it would've been a touchdown." Instead, the Rams took the ball and drove all the way for their own TD.

It was part of a huge game from Donald, who ended up with three sacks and laid waste to the offensive line too many times to count.

"He was everywhere tonight," said running back James Conner, who was Donald's teammate in college.

Some of the numbers were gaudy. A.J. Green had seven catches for 102 yards. Conner had nine catches for 94 yards and added two rushing touchdowns, including one where he managed to escape Donald – who was unblocked – for a big fourth-down score.

But there were two other fourth downs in the fourth quarter that didn't work. DeAndre Hopkins, who left the game with an injury in the waning minutes, shocking dropped a pass on one. The other, Conner was stoned on fourth-and-2 when the Cards could've conceivably tried a 55-yard field goal down 10 points.

"I would do it 100 times out of 100 times in that situation," Kingsbury said of the latter attempt.

The defense couldn't find a way to bother Matthew Stafford (three TD passes, no turnovers) enough, or cover Cooper Kupp (13 receptions, 123 yards, TD).

"Losses suck," defensive end Zach Allen said. "When you do it on a big stage like that there are going to be more questions asked and it's going to expose yourself more, but a loss is a loss.

"The sky is not falling. We are 10-3, but we can't hide behind what we've done in the past."

Like the Packers loss – another game that wasn't as clean as the Cards would've wanted – the Cardinals still found themselves with a chance to pull out a win, albeit unlikely. Zaven Collins recovered an onside kick with 34 seconds left and the Cardinals down seven.

Murray scrambled 15 yards to the L.A. 37 and out of bounds, and for a moment, the miracle seemed possible – until guard Sean Harlow was called for holding. Then tackle Kelvin Beachum was called for a false start, and the game ended when Murray chose not to spike the ball to try and set up a final play, and he was buried for an 18-yard sack by Donald.

"It was miscommunication between me and the O-line," Murray said. "They thought it was spike, but it was just a heat-of-the-moment deal. I don't even remember the call, what was being said in the helmet or anything like that."

The Cardinals travel to Detroit next week to try and boost their sparkling road record against the worst team in the league. Had they beaten the Rams, it would've been a chance to clinch the division as well.

Now it's just a must-win, as the Cardinals – if they are going to play multiple games at home in the postseason – need to not only win but get some help too.

"We would like (home-field)," Conner said. "We haven't played the best at home. We acknowledge that."

"Shame on us if we think like (we don't want home field). That's not the case. We're not thinking that at all. We still have to play better football. We have to play our best game, whether it's on the road or at home."