The carnage continued for the Cardinals at State Farm Stadium Monday night in a dispiriting 27-13 loss to the Patriots.
Quarterback Kyler Murray suffered what is likely a serious knee injury on the third play of the game and a somber Kliff Kingsbury said afterward, “It doesn’t look good.”
As backup Colt McCoy said, “You never want to see that happen to anybody. I know how much he cares about the game and how hard he works.”
Kingsbury added, “It’s tough; there’s no doubt. You see teams go through it every week, but (when) you lose your starter on the third play of the game—a non-contact kind of deal—it’s just tough to watch and see.”
While Kingsbury said Murray will have an MRI Tuesday, ESPN.com reported that there’s “little doubt” that he suffered a torn ACL.
In addition, cornerback Marco Wilson departed in the first half with a stinger and never returned. Defensive end Zach Allen, who had a sack, tackle for loss and pass defensed, was lost in the third quarter because of a hand injury.
Still, if the Cardinals hadn’t continued their penchant for beating themselves, a victory was still possible.
They took a 13-7 lead with 2:59 remaining in the first half on a James Conner 10-yard run and never scored again. After that touchdown, the Patriots went three-and-out thanks to the Allen sack on third down.
After a Greg Dortch 17-yard punt return, the Cardinals were set up at the New England 41-yard line with 1:42 on the clock. But Conner was stopped for no gain on third-and-1 and then Kingsbury eschewed a 50-yard field-goal attempt. Linebacker Jahlani Tavai tipped a short fourth-down pass intended for tight end Trey McBride with 32 seconds remaining.
Kicker Matt Prater had missed a 50-yard attempt on the opening possession of the game after also missing from 49 yards in the 25-24 loss to the Chargers in Week 12.
However, Kingsbury danced around the question if the decision to go for it on fourth down had anything to do with a lack of confidence with Prater on long kicks.
Kingsbury said, “I liked the play call we had” and then said, “Matt’s been a clutch kicker in this league for a long time, so that was just a decision based on the play call.”
However, even if complete, it wouldn’t have left much time to get closer with the Cardinals out of timeouts.
Four plays later, the Cardinals allowed a 30-yard completion to tight end Hunter Henry down the middle of the field. On the ensuing first-down play, the snap was botched, but Patriots quarterback managed to recover, setting up Nick Folk for a 51-yard field goal and a 13-10 halftime score.
On the opening possession of the second half, the Cardinals were gashed for a 44-yard run by Pierre Strong Jr. that moved the ball to the 12-yard line. The defense held and a Folk’s 23-yard field goal tied the game.
On the next possession, the Cardinals advanced to the Patriots 39-yard line on gains of seven and six yards by Conner with a 23-yard pass from Colt McCoy to DeAndre Hopkins sandwiched between those runs. However, on third-and-4, right tackle Kelvin Beachum was guilty of a false start, Conner then got four yards back, but McCoy missed an open Marquise Brown in the red zone on fourth down.
McCioy said, “I wish I could have that one back,” while acknowledging, “I’ve never played with him.”
He’ll assuredly get that chance in the final four games of the season.
Stikl, it remained a tie game when the Cardinals forced a three-and-out, but took over on their own 6-yard line. The game turned on first down at the 18 when Hopkins gained four yards, but had the ball knocked out by safety Kyle Dugger. Linebacker Raekwon McMillan scooped up the loose ball and raced 23 yards for a touchdown and a 20-13 New England lead.
Hopkins said, “The fumble hurt us more than anything and I take responsibility for that. I think that’s where everything went downhill when they got the momentum. It just seemed like it kept coming, so it’s on me. I take full responsibility.”
More disaster was ahead when the Cardinals got the ball after the score. Two first downs moved the ball to the Patriots 37-yard line and after a 3-yard sack on first down, McCoy had what appeared to be an open Hopkins deep to the left. However, he was hit by linebacker Josh Uche as he passed, and the underthrown ball was intercepted by cornerback Marcus Jones.
McCoy said he wasn’t able to get much on the pass “as my feet came off the ground. At worst, it would have been a 50-50 ball (for Hopkins).”
On first down for the Patriots at their own 37, a pass for Nelson Agholor bounced off his hands and was intercepted by linebacker Zaven Collins and returned 43 yards for what would have been the tying touchdown. However, the replay review ruled the ball touched the ground before the interception.
It was the second consecutive game a Collins interception was overturned.
Henry then got loose downfield again for 39 yards to the 3-yard line and a Strong run gave the Patriots a 27-13 lead.
McCoy bemoaned the self-inflicted wounds, noting “there were positives in the game, but we can’t have the false starts, shifting penalties and hurt ourselves like that. We’re not good enough to overcome those things consistently. We have to lock into the details and be sharp.”
A Brown illegal shirt wiped out a 15-yard completion to Hopkins on third-and-13 in the first quarter, while Hopkins and A.J. Green were flagged for one on the same play, which negated a 15-yard completion to Brown.
Agreed Kingsbury, “The self-inflicted stuff offensively was really bad tonight. The illegal shifts on big plays; you can’t do that. It’s just unacceptable, and we’ve got to be better. No matter who’s out there operating, no matter who’s in; obviously there are some guys that are backups that are getting a lot of time. We’ve just got to execute at a high level and when you have a chance to make plays, you have to make them.”
Offensively, the Cardinals converted only 4-of-14 third downs and failed on 4-of-5 fourth downs. That’s a combined 5-for-19.
They possessed the ball for 33:31 to New England’s 26:29, had one more first down (19 to 18) and were out-gained by only five yards (328 to 323).
But, again, points were hard to come by as this was the fifth game this season where the Cardinals scored 17 or fewer points.
With two turnovers and one takeaway, the Cardinals are now 0-6 this season when they have a negative turnover/takeaway ratio.
Defensively, the explosive plays by Strong and Henry accounted for 113 of New England’s 328 yards (34.5 percent), which helped counter the fact that the Patriots were 3-for-11 on third down and aside from Henry’s 69 yards on two plays, Jones’ 22 other completions totaled a mere 166 yards, a 7.5-yard average. Twelve of his pass attempts were screen passes.
As bleak as this season is with a record of 4-9, having won only one of seven true home games with one to go on Christmas night, McCoy said he looks forward to getting a full complement of practice this week as the starter, albeit on a short week.
“We’ve battled injuries all year long,” he said, “and we’re going to keep fighting.”
Unfortunately, sometimes fighting just isn’t good enough.
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