NflSports

‘Right now, we’re pretty much killing ourselves’

As good as he was, Jonathan Taylor didn’t beat the Arizona Cardinals on Saturday night. Sure, the Colts’ star running back rushed for 108 yards on 27 carries and his team scored a 22-16 victory at State Farm Stadium.

But it was the Cardinals who beat themselves and that’s why they lost their third consecutive game and fifth in their past eight after jumping out to an impressive 7-0 start to the season.

“We feel it. You see it. Good teams don’t do that,” quarterback Kyler Murray said after the Cardinals dropped to 10-5 and presently hold the No.5 playoff seed in the NFC after owning the No.1 seed just a month ago.

“We weren’t doing that earlier in the season, but now you see it and it’s killing us in crucial moments where we’re not scoring touchdowns because of it or vice versa on the other side of the ball. It’s mental mistakes we just can’t keep making if we want to be where … if we want to win these games and we’re supposed to be winning them. It’s bad football.”

It wasn’t just bad for the Cardinals on a blue Christmas evening. It was ugly, sloppy and embarrassing.

Arizona Cardinals head coach Kliff Kingsbury looks on during the second half against the Indianapolis Colts at State Farm Stadium.

Arizona Cardinals head coach Kliff Kingsbury looks on during the second half against the Indianapolis Colts at State Farm Stadium.

They committed 11 penalties for 85 yards. Kicker Matt Prater missed two field goals and an extra point. The defense surrendered five plays of 20 yards or longer. Murray and the offense, meanwhile, did too much sputtering and haven’t been able to score the kind of points they routinely were putting up during the season’s first half.

Arizona was missing three very pivotal pieces on offense in wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins (knee), running back James Conner (heel) and center Rodney Hudson (Reserve/COVID-19 list), but look at who the Colts didn’t have.

They were without their entire interior starting offensive line in All-Pro left guard Quenton Nelson and right guard Mark Glowinski (both on the COVID-19 list) and Pro Bowl center Ryan Kelly (personal reasons). Hours before kickoff, they placed three more starters on the COVID-19 list in Pro Bowl linebacker Darius Leonard, free safety Khari Willis and wide receiver Zach Pascal.

During the game, they also lost left tackle Eric Fisher (knee) and tight end Jack Doyle (ankle/knee). How many times has it been now where opposing teams have come to Glendale shorthanded only to leave with a victory? It’s happened at least three times in prime time.

Sloppy football isn’t just a curse for NFL teams in December. It’s virtually a guarantee for a death sentence in January if you’re thinking about advancing in the playoffs.

“Right now, we’re just in a tough spot,” running back Chase Edmonds said. “We’ve got to band together, we’ve got to get together, stay one as a family. We know what’s going to come next with the noise. We’ve just got to figure out how to become 1-0 next week. That’s really what it is right now.

“Watch the film, correct it, get better. Obviously, we can’t keep doing the self-inflicted wounds. That’s the No.1 think that coach (Kliff Kingsbury) and a couple of the leaders just harped on, postgame. Find ways to not inflict ourselves. If a team is going to beat us, it’s got to be because a team is better that day. We can’t keep shooting ourselves in the foot.”

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Instead of being in the enviable position of getting a first-round bye and home-field advantage throughout the playoffs, the Cardinals — at least at the moment — are on track to play a wild-card game on the road at the defending Super Bowl champion Buccaneers. Not that Arizona has even earned that as of yet.

For the third straight week, the Cardinals failed to clinch a playoff berth when all they needed to do was beat the Rams at home, the Lions on the road or the visiting Colts. Thanks to the 49ers’ loss to the Titans on Thursday night, however, they can be assured of at least a wild-card spot on Sunday if the Vikings lose to the Rams or the Eagles lose to the Giants or if the Saints lose to the Dolphins on Monday night

“I don’t think anybody’s looking at that,” Kingsbury said, referring to backing into a playoff spot. “We’re looking at ourselves, looking in the mirror and trying to figure out what we have to do because right now, it’s not good enough to be the team we know we can be.”

Backup center Max Garcia had some struggles again in place of Hudson with a holding penalty and a botched snap to Murray that skipped into the end zone and resulted in a safety for the Colts. Right guard Josh Jones continues to pick up false-start penalties with two more on Saturday.

Defensively, there were more roughing the passer penalties, flags for illegal contact and pass interference and the miscues are getting out of control.

“Everybody just has to focus on their job,” Kingsbury said. “I think with some of the guys out, guys are trying to do too much at times and we’ve just got to take it one play at a time, reset and do it again.”

Arizona got off to a decent drive on its opening series, going 47 yards on 12 plays, but with backup quarterback Colt McCoy holding on a 51-yard field goal attempt in place of punter Andy Lee (on the COVID-19 list), Prater missed the kick to the left.

Making matters worse, Taylor ripped off a 43-yard run between the tackles on the next play for the Colts and it helped set up Carson Wentz’s easy 1-yard pass to T.Y. Hilton for a touchdown and a 7-0 lead. Fortunately for the Cardinals, Murray was able to respond with a 57-yard run of his own on the next series and Chase Edmonds walked in for a 2-yard touchdown.

Prater, however, with McCoy once again catching the snap and doing the hold, hooked the point-after attempt wide left a second time. Later, with temporary new punter Ryan Winslow holding, he plunked a 41-yard attempt off the right upright. The Colts had already added the safety and got two field goals from Michael Badgley, but then would add another touchdown on Wentz’s 14-yard strike to Dezmon Patmon to make it 22-13 with 6:37 left to play.

“I’ll have to watch the tape,” Kingsbury said if the Prater miscues. “Obviously, we had a different holder with Andy on the COVID list, but I have to see kind of the operation on what happened there.”

Arizona Cardinals kicker Matt Prater reacts after missing a field goal in the first half against the Indianapolis Colts.

Arizona Cardinals kicker Matt Prater reacts after missing a field goal in the first half against the Indianapolis Colts.

What happened were mistakes. They came from all corners of the Cardinals on Saturday and it’s turning what looked to be a special season into a possible nightmarish ending.

“All you’ve got to do is get in, but we don’t want to get in the way we’re playing,” Murray said. “We want to go in playing good and feeling good about ourselves and what we’re doing. The thing about it is it’s fixable. We’ve just got to look in the mirror and just stop making these mistakes because that game was very winnable. But like I said, good teams don’t do that and right now we’re not doing what we need to do.

“At any level of level football, you can’t do those things. Right now, we’re pretty much killing ourselves.”

This article originally appeared on Arizona Republic: Arizona Cardinals miss another opportunity to clinch playoff spot


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