Kyler Murray’s first NFL playoff start quickly turned into a nightmare.
The dynamic quarterback and his Arizona Cardinals teammates had just about the worst possible start to Monday night’s 34-11 loss to the Los Angeles Rams in the NFC Wildcard round. When the Cardinals got their first down, they were 21-0 behind midway through the second quarter.
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“We didn’t even make it to a game,” said Murray, who completed 19 of 34 passes on 137 yards and two interceptions. “I put a lot on my shoulders. Playing like I did was disappointing.”
The Cardinals went three-and-out on their first four possessions, the first time this has happened in a playoff game in at least 10 seasons. They were outscored 180-40 in the first half and averaged just 1.5 yards per game. games, the second worst average in a playoff game over the last 20 seasons.
Murray was pressured from the start. He was fired twice in the first half and was almost brought down for safety in the second quarter before throwing an unforeseen pass that was picked off by David Long for a 3-yard touchdown return to 21-0.
Murray was unable to find any success throwing downfield. He completed just one pass in addition to 15 air yards on eight attempts, and 11 of his 34 attempts were passes behind the line.
“It just got out of hand early. You have to be able to run the ball on those guys. When you get into a passing game, they have three of the best pass rushers along with good players in the backcourt,” Murray said.
The Cardinals came into the game 10th in the league in rushing, averaging 122 yards per game, but were held to a season-low 61 against the Rams. Murray had a season-low two rushing touchdowns and got six yards.
“I just think, generally as a misdemeanor, that we were just out of sync on a few things early on that could have changed the game,” coach Kliff Kingsbury said. “We never got into a rhythm, and they made some great plays.”
Arizona’s only touchdown came midway through the third quarter as James Conners’ 2-yard run ended a 12-play, 75-yard drive to get the Cardinals within 28-8. That drive also marked the first time Arizona crossed the midfield.
“When you have negative play after negative play, it’s just hard to get out of it,” said broadband receiver Christian Kirk. “When we first got on the field in the second half, we started doing some good things, but it was just too late.”
The blowout loss continued a trend during Kingsbury’s tenure – quick starts to the season before collapsing down the stretch. Arizona won its first seven games and was the NFL’s last undefeated team, making it one of the early favorites in the NFC.
At 10-2, the Cardinals had the NFC’s best record and a two-game lead in the West before losing four of their last five games of the regular season and falling to fifth seed.
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Defensive lineman JJ Watt was activated from injured reserve before the game after undergoing shoulder surgery in late October. Despite his return, the 11-year-old veteran could not hide his disappointment at the result.
“From what we were able to do and showed what we can do, there is no other way than to describe this as a failure,” Watt said. “You can enjoy the highs, but you have to live with the lows. We started the season great and finished terribly.”