It was just a couple months ago that the Cardinals were arguably the favorite to represent the NFC in Super Bowl LVI on Feb. 13 at SoFi Stadium in Inglewood, California.
Arizona, fueled by the play of quarterback Kyler Murray and the re-emergence of running back James Conner, were 10-2 with a possible first-round playoff bye in reach. The Cardinals couldn’t possibly screw this up, right?
Cue a 1-4 finish to the season and surrendering the NFC West crown to the Rams. Arizona didn’t even get to experience a home playoff game, instead drawing those same Rams in the NFC Wild Card round on the road. The rest of the story — well, we all know how it went.
Los Angeles took control from the time toe met leather en route to a 34-11 victory. And with the Rams and 49ers, two division rivals, set to meet for a chance to play in the Super Bowl, Cardinals owner Michael Bidwill is bothered by that reality.
“Anytime you see your direct competitors in the playoffs, it should bother any football fan,” Bidwill said, via the Arizona Republic. “And it certainly bothers this one.”
Arizona’s season unfortunately took a turn when Murray sprained his ankle during the Cardinals’ 24-21 loss to the Packers in Week 8. Murray missed three games with the injury and returned in Week 13. Once an MVP candidate, Murray couldn’t sustain his outstanding play in December and January.
Post injury (7 games), Murray posted just two games with a passer rating over 100. His passer rating was over 100 in 6-of-8 games before the injury. In addition, the offense became a lot less vertical, with Murray’s yards per attempt falling well below its peak in September and October.
Lots of that had to do with the absence of receiver Deandre Hopkins, who missed eight games this season with a hamstring injury and later a torn MCL. Without its top option in the passing game, Arizona was dead in the water.
The Cardinals and Bidwill will now turn their attention to the offseason, which expects to be a busy one in Glendale. Arizona will hold the 23rd overall pick in the 2022 NFL Draft, as they look to improve the roster for a renewed playoff push next season.
“We had a lot of great success in 2021,” Bidwill said. “I don’t want to take away from that, but we can get better and that’s what we’re working on now.”
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