GLENDALE, Ariz. — The Arizona Cardinals found ways to win games last season, riding their close-it-out ability all the way to the NFC Championship game.
An inability to come up with the big play at the right moment has them reeling and searching for answers this season.
Plagued by turnovers and inopportune penalties, the Cardinals dropped to 1-3 after a 17-13 loss to the Los Angeles Rams on Sunday.
“We won a lot of close games and we have not won them this year,” Cardinals coach Bruce Arians said. “We’ve made a living winning close games for a long time and this year, right now, we are not making the plays to win ’em.”
The Cardinals won three of their four games decided by a touchdown or less last season on their way to earning a spot in the NFC title game against Carolina.
They lost that game to miss a shot at playing in the Super Bowl, but were expected to build upon that experience this year.
It hasn’t worked out that way so far.
Arizona opened the season with a home loss to the Tom Brady-less New England Patriots and followed a blowout win over Tampa Bay with a disheartening 15-point loss to previously winless Buffalo last week.
Once known for rallying after a tough loss, the Cardinals came out flat against the Rams (3-1), often unable to get out of their own way.
Arizona lost two fumbles — one right after forcing one by the Rams — and Carson Palmer threw an interception in the end zone in the second quarter, leading to a second round of boos from the hometown fans.
Palmer went out late in the game with concussion-like symptoms after being sacked by Aaron Donald and was replaced by Drew Stanton, who threw a pair of interceptions with the Cardinals playing in desperation mode.
Arizona also had a touchdown run by Chris Johnson nullified by a holding penalty in the second quarter, leading to a 25-yard field goal by Chandler Catanzaro instead of six points.
“We’ve all just got to look in the mirror and check ourselves because we’re not the team we were last year,” Cardinals safety Tyrann Mathieu said. “That team was last year. We’re 1-3 and we’re losing situational football.”
Arizona’s defense was good much of the game — the Rams had 288 total yards — though had a couple of key breakdowns on the Rams’ first scoring drive.
One came when the Cardinals appeared to have Los Angeles stopped, only to be hit with a defensive holding penalty against Patrick Peterson. Three plays later, multiple missed tackles turned a short pass from Case Keenum to Brian Quick into a 65-yard touchdown .
“There were definitely plays that the defense left out there that we could have made,” Cardinals linebacker Chandler Jones said.
Despite its struggles, Arizona was in position to pick up a much-needed win after Catanzaro hit a 21-yard field goal for a 13-10 lead at the end of the third quarter.
This time, the Cardinals’ special teams had the breakdown, allowing Tavon Austin to return a punt 47 yards to their 34-yard line. Los Angeles took advantage of the short field, scoring five plays later on a 4-yard pass from Keenum to Quick .
“Obviously, the punt return at the end was huge,” Arians said.
It doesn’t get any easier for the Cardinals. They have a short week with a road game against San Francisco on Thursday, leaving little time to prepare, much less go through the film of Sunday’s loss.
“The sky is not falling for us,” Arians said. “I’m sure it is for a bunch of the fans — we’re as disappointed as they are — but we’ve got a game Thursday night.”
One they desperately need to win so the downward spiral does not continue.