Fading Cardinals search for answers as losses mount

Arizona’s late-season fade is starting to feel like a full-blown collapse.

The Cardinals failed to clinch a playoff spot for the third straight week after a 22-16 loss to the banged-up Indianapolis Colts, who were missing arguably their best defensive player and four starting offensive linemen.

After a 7-0 record to start the season, the Cardinals are just 3-5.

The mistakes started early Saturday and piled up in a brutal first half: Kicker Matt Prater missed a long field goal and an extra point. The offense had a turnover on downs and gave up a safety when quarterback Kyler Murray couldn’t handle a low snap. Arizona was called for seven penalties before the break and 11 for the game.

"At any level of football, you can’t do those things," Murray said. "Right now, we are pretty much killing ourselves."

It’s the second year in a row the Cardinals have had a late-season fade. They started the 2020 season with a 6-3 record but closed with a 2-5 mark to miss the playoffs for a fifth straight season. The comparisons are inevitable and running back Chase Edmonds knows that the criticism is coming.

"Right now, we are just in a tough spot," Edmonds said. "We’ve got to band together, we’ve got to get together, stay one as a family. We know what is going to come next with the noise."

The good news for the Cardinals is they’ll almost certainly make the playoffs even if they lose their final two games of the season against the Cowboys and Seahawks. There’s a myriad of ways for Arizona to back into the bracket, even by finishing 10-7.

That’s little solace for a team that looked like one of the NFL’s best a couple months ago.

"All you have to do is get in, that is all you got to do," Murray said. "But at the end of the day we don’t want to get in the way we are playing. We want to go in playing good, feeling good about ourselves."

There have been some injuries that have undoubtedly hurt. Three-time Defensive Player of the Year J.J. Watt has a shoulder injury that will likely keep him out for the rest of the year. Three-time All-Pro receiver DeAndre Hopkins is also likely out for the rest of the regular season because of a sprained knee.

"I think everybody has to focus on their job," Cardinals coach Kliff Kingsbury said. "Some of the guys out ... guys are trying to do too much at times and we’ve got to take it one play at a time, reset and do it again."

The Colts — and just about anyone else in this COVID-19 filled season — won’t have much sympathy for the Cardinals. Indianapolis found out hours before the game that 2020 All-Pro linebacker Darius Leonard and two others had tested positive for the virus. They were missing four starting offensive linemen and their starting tight end by the end of the first half because of injuries.

Yet the Colts still found a win.

That’s at least partly because the Cardinals keep finding ways to lose.

Kingsbury is 0-5 with the Cardinals when they’ve had a chance to clinch a playoff spot.

"The thing about it is it’s fixable," Murray said. "We just have to look ourselves in the mirror and stop making these mistakes because that game was very winnable. Good teams don’t do that."

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