The Arizona Cardinals completed a late-season collapse with an ugly 18-7 loss to the Los Angeles Rams on Sunday. The Cardinals knew they had to win the game in order to make the playoffs, but an early injury to quarterback Kyler Murray meant backup Chris Streveler had to guide an already struggling offense against the best defense in the NFL. The result has Cardinals fans wondering what the direction this team is heading in – and that tops our look at the five biggest takeaways from the weekend in sports.
1. Are the Cardinals improving?
Arizona won eight games in 2020, a three game improvement over 2019 and a five game improvement over the miserable 2018 season. The defense finished 13th overall in yards allowed per game – a stunning turnaround from the 2019 defense that was dead last in the NFL. Wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins gives the offense a much-needed weapon for the next few years. Despite all these positives, the Cardinals showed no urgency in the back half of the season with a playoff spot on the line. The offense regressed to a point where it scored 7 points against the Rams, 12 against the 49ers and 17 against the Patriots – three bad losses that playoff teams should win. Head coach Kliff Kingsbury continues to underwhelm us with very little offensive creativity and there are still too many questionable personnel decisions on a weekly basis. The latter was on full display Sunday when Streveler, who previously played in the Canadian Football League, came on in relief of Murray and looked completely out of his league.
Big Takeaway: The offense is supposed to win games for the Cardinals. Instead it was the defense that kept this team in games most of the year. The win total was improved, but this team finished the season losing six of its last nine games and the offense was inconsistent and looked lost at times, especially in the red zone. The offense needs an overhaul in the offseason much like the defense needed it a year ago. Kingsbury relinquishing play-calling duties to an offensive coordinator would be the best place to start.
2. The season that could’ve been.
The Cardinals got off to a 5-2 start and had everyone’s attention after a thrilling overtime win against Seattle on Sunday Night Football. They owned first place in the NFC West and were positioned to fight for the No. 1 seed in the NFC after returning from a bye week. Even after a missed field goal and bad coaching decisions cost them the Dolphins game, the Cardinals beat Buffalo on a Hail Mary and were 6-3, still in a prime spot to easily make the playoffs. It was all downhill after that. Five of the final seven games were losses, including the final two to backup quarterbacks. In Sunday’s finale, the Cardinals could not overcome former Arizona Hotshots (of the AAF) quarterback John Wolford, making his NFL debut and gifting the defense with an interception on his first ever attempted pass.
Big Takeaway: The Cardinals had a lot of luck this season which resulted in wins. The Hail Mary to beat the Bills was one example. Four wins against the NFC East (no team above .500) is another. They also had the hapless Jets and a depleted Patriots team on the schedule. The Cardinals took advantage of a lot of favors to get to eight wins. Perhaps that’s really who this team is: a mediocre team that beats up on bad teams and loses to good teams.
3. Larry Fitzgerald retirement rumors circle again.
Fitz was unable to play in Week 17 due to a groin injury and now enters the offseason where he has to weigh retirement or returning for another season. This has been a regular occurrence for the Cardinals superstar receiver over the past few years, but the rumor mills got churning early this time around because of a since-deleted tweet sent out by Arizona defensive line coach Brentson Buckner late Sunday night, thanking Fitzgerald for the memories and writing “Last ride with my brother.” Buckner later clarified the tweet.
Big Takeaway: 2020 was the least productive season in Larry Fitzgerald’s 17-year career. 54 receptions on 72 targets for 409 yards and one touchdown were all career lows. There’s only one receiver better than him on the current roster (DeAndre Hopkins), so it’s baffling why Fitz wasn’t a bigger part of the game plan. The Cardinals have given him 11 million reasons to return each of the past few seasons and Fitz has earned as many of those contracts as the team is willing to offer.
4. Phoenix Suns off to hot start.
The Suns fell behind by 31 points to the L.A. Clippers Sunday night, but rallied to get within two points before eventually losing 112-107. The loss was only the second of the season for a Suns team that has shot out of the gates hot, building off its 8-0 run in the Orlando bubble last summer.
Big Takeaway: Despite the disastrous first half against the Clippers, this Suns team is showing us it’s learning to win and knows how to win. Chris Paul hit a clutch shot in the closing moments to beat the Nuggets on Friday. A day before, Devin Booker had 25 in a road win over Utah. Earlier in the week, the Suns dismantled the Pelicans in a 25-point win on national TV. These are all promising signs and very good wins over Western Conference opponents early in a shortened season.
5. When will ASU basketball return?
The Sun Devils men’s basketball team has postponed its last three games due to COVID-19 concerns. It hasn’t played a game since December 16: a bad loss at home to UTEP. Bobby Hurley’s crew is scheduled to be back in action later this week at home against the two Southern California schools, Thursday against UCLA and Saturday against USC.
Big Takeaway: The Devils have only played seven of the 26 scheduled games so far this season and have been sitting on a 4-3 record for weeks – not to mention the sour taste of losing to UTEP in your own backyard. Now that our disappointing football season is over, it’s time for our local basketball teams to give sports fans something to root for.