Kyler Murray was back in the lineup. Hollywood Brown too, playing alongside DeAndre Hopkins for the first time this season. James Conner had his best day as a Cardinal.
The offense had key pieces available and doing what it needed to do Sunday – until it didn't. Bad timing. The worst timing.
The Cardinals went ahead in the fourth quarter by a touchdown, and three times got the ball back able to extend the lead or at least burn clock – instead punting for the first three times all game, failing to gain one first down, and opening the door for the Los Angeles Chargers to score a touchdown and then the game-winning two-point conversion with 15 seconds left at State Farm Stadium.
"There is no excuse for our last three drives," said Murray, after the 25-24 disappointment. "There's no excuse. We got the players. There is no excuse not finishing that game on our terms, not having to put the defense out there. They did their job.
"We don't get a first down, we don't run the clock."
What the Cardinals do get is a trip into their bye weekend with a 4-8 record, three games back of the final playoff spot with five games left and four other teams between them and that aforementioned spot.
Mathematically, it could work. Realistically, not so much.
A win over the Chargers (6-5) would've helped, and it seemed for much of the game that's what could happen. Conner had first 100-yard rushing game with the Cardinals, gaining 120 yards, and the Cardinals had 181 as a team.
Murray returned with 56 yards rushing and a touchdown and was 18-for-29 for 191 yards and two scores, along with an interception. Brown had six catches in his return, and Hopkins provided 87 yards and a score on four catches.
The defense sacked Justin Herbert four times. Those were all things that went well.
The result? "It leaves a bad taste," Conner said.
The Cardinals were inarguably hurt on a pair of overturned calls, one a fumble recovery by cornerback Trayvon Mullen, the other an interception by Zaven Collins. The latter turned out huge, since the Cardinals would have already been in field-goal range had it stood.
Instead, the Chargers were able to punt – thus beginning the frustrating nine plays for 16 yards over three possessions that ultimately cost them the game.
"We've got to help our defense," left tackle Josh Jones said. "Our defense played a wonderful game. When we have a chance to put the game away we have to be able to put the game away. Four-minute (offense), we've got to be able to take control, run the ball like we have been doing the whole game. Just finish.
"It's hard to tolerate. We were close. But if we don't get the win, it doesn't mean nothing."
Twice, the defense made it moot, forcing punts, the last coming after Isaiah Simmons sacked Chargers QB Justin Herbert and getting the ball back to the Cardinals with 2:19 left. The Cardinals ended up punting at the two-minute warning.
The Chargers got a 20-yard punt return, and a score finally seemed inevitable. Herbert found running back Austin Ekeler for the one-yard TD pass, and the Chargers didn't hesitate in going for two points and the win. Tight end Gerald Everett was easily open on the slant for the conversion, and the Cardinals were left stunned.
"Back-to-back scores in the end zone, there's really not much else to say," Collins said.
Added cornerback Antonio Hamilton, "We know if we stop them from scoring, we win."
The Cardinals only gave up 65 rushing yards, and 38 were on Herbert scrambles. The offense utilized Brown and Hopkins well together and Conner's day led for a very balanced offensive output. The Cards still have four of five missing offensive linemen and their top tight end, and that probably isn't changing.
"We've got to find a way to maximize who we are and what we put out there these last five weeks," Kingsbury said.
But the Cardinals now have a bye week plus – their next game isn't until Dec. 12, a Monday night home game against the Patriots – to stew on the outcome and wonder why it ended the way it did.
It's been the story much too often this season.
"It felt like you were going to win that game," Murray said. "The energy, offensively I felt we played well – until the fourth quarter, when we needed it the most, we didn't make it happen."
Game action photos from the Cardinals' matchup against the Los Angeles Chargers during Week 12 of the 2022 NFL regular season