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The Rams knew they were going to be playing without their starting quarterback. The Cardinals did not.
In a game, the Cardinals had to win to prolong their season, and with an offense missing both Larry Fitzgerald and Christian Kirk, trading out Kyler Murray for Chris Streveler early in the game ultimately undercut their postseason hopes in a disappointing 18-7 loss to the Los Angeles Rams on Sunday at SoFi Stadium.
For a team that owned a 5-2 and 6-3 record at one point, derailing to a final 8-8 record wasn’t how it was supposed to go. Win and you’re in – and the Cardinals are out.
“Part of it is going through it, learning how to win,” said Murray, who returned in the fourth quarter but was no able to forge a comeback. “There are some other reasons I don’t care to break down right now.
“(Missing the playoffs) is an ugly feeling.”
Murray went out after the first possession, his ankle wrenched during a sack. It turned out to be the death knell. The Cardinals (8-8) made it work briefly when linebacker Jordan Hicks picked off Wolford’s first NFL pass deep in L.A. territory and took it back to the Rams 14.
Streveler gave the ball to undrafted rookie running back Jonathan Ward, who finished off an impressive 11-yard touchdown. Ruled a pass, it was Streveler’s first TD pass as well as Ward’s first NFL score.
But for the game, the Cardinals gained just 214 yards, 102 of which came in the fourth quarter when the Rams (10-6) already had control – and the Cards weren’t able to generate any points. Murray’s first drive back quickly moved the Cardinals to the Rams 7, but eventually, a field-goal try was blocked.
Murray spent the game trying to get loose enough to return, needing to make sure he could avoid the rush enough and not put the Cardinals in a bad position. Murray “had to let some things kick in” after multiple trips to the locker room and medical tent.
“I was fine,” Murray said. “I wasn’t 100 percent but at that point in the game it really didn’t matter.”
Kingsbury called the injury “pretty significant,” and that Murray couldn’t push off it most of the time he was out. When it became bearable enough, Murray gave it a try.
“That was gutty,” Kingsbury said.
Murray ended up 8-for-11 for 87 yards. Streveler was 11-for-16 for 105 yards, his touchdown and an interception.
“It didn’t go the way I would’ve hoped it would go, how anyone would’ve hoped it would go,” Streveler said.
The Cards allowed the Rams two points on a safety when guard Justin Pugh was called for holding in the end zone on a Streveler scramble. Streveler, meanwhile, was picked off by Rams cornerback Troy Hill in the last minute of the first half and the Cards in field-goal range. Hill returned it 84 yards for a touchdown that gave Los Angeles the lead for good.
Streveler acknowledged he thought the Rams were offside on the play and he had a free shot down the field, but no flag was thrown.
Kingsbury, who also thought the Cards would have a free play on the snap, said overall there were “quite a few unfortunate events out there.”
Wolford was not spectacular but as expected, Rams coach Sean McVay was ready to use Wolford’s athletic ability to make plays on the ground and on the move. Wolford threw for 231 yards and rushed for another 46, but more importantly never turned the ball over again.
“If you’re in the NFL, you ain’t here just to be here and just for show-and-tell,” linebacker Markus Golden said. “If you’re in the NFL and you’re on somebody’s team, it’s because you’re good.”
Kingsbury said he thinks the Cardinals have made strides as an organization, and that the jump in wins from five to eight shows that progress tangibly. The Cards, he said, need to continue to find pieces to put around Murray.
A frustrated Murray believes the Cardinals should’ve been a playoff team. Instead, the season is over.
“It goes back to winning the games you’re supposed to win and you’re not putting yourself in this position,” Murray said.
“We have to use it as motivation. I don’t need a lot to motivate me. As a team, it should motivate us a lot.”