Cardinals' late-season slide continues with third straight loss

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- It was a nightmare on Christmas for the Arizona Cardinals.

Their late-season slide continued on Saturday with a 22-16 loss to the Indianapolis Colts, as the Cardinals failed to clinch a playoff berth for the third straight week.

They’ve now lost three in a row and five of their past eight to fall to 10-5 on the season. One question that begs to be asked: How long will this slide last?

Arizona travels to Dallas in Week 17 and will face another physical running back in the CowboysEzekiel Elliott. After knowing what Colts running back Jonathan Taylor was going to do and still not being able to stop it, slowing down Elliott doesn’t seem any more likely. That means Arizona might have one last game to get a win this season in Week 18 at home against the Seattle Seahawks.

Seattle is far off its pace of previous seasons, but it’s a team that always plays the Cardinals close. And it doesn’t help that Arizona is 3-4 at home this season, with all its losses coming in its past four home games.

It is Arizona’s second straight season with a major slide in the second half. The Cardinals started 5-2 last year and finished 3-6 and out of the playoffs. Mathematically, they’ll likely make the playoffs this time around, but their fall has been reminiscent of last season.

The flip side is, with the exception of last week in Detroit, Arizona has been dominant on the road, where it’s 7-1, and the Seahawks aren’t very good this season, so a 2-0 finish isn’t totally out of the question.

But if Saturday’s performance is any indication, that isn’t likely.

The Cardinals couldn’t beat an offense that finished with four backup linemen and without its top tight end. And their own offense struggled to get going without running back James Conner and wide receiver Rondale Moore.

Arizona also couldn’t get out of its own way. It finished the first half with more penalties than points (seven to six) and finished with 11 penalties for 85 yards.

Troubling trend: Kicker Matt Prater missed two field goals and an extra point, leaving seven points on the field, which would have decided the game for the Cardinals. This was his second game in 2021 with multiple missed field goals. Prater’s missed field goal from 41 yards with 11:12 left that bounced off the right upright would’ve given the Cardinals a 16-15 lead but instead turned into another touchdown for the Colts that put the game away.

Biggest hole in the game plan: It wasn’t necessarily a hole as much as it was the inability to stop Taylor when the Cardinals knew what was coming. Taylor had a 43-yard run on the Colts’ first offensive play, which sparked his 108-yard rushing performance. The Colts are still undefeated this season when Taylor hits 100 yards.

QB breakdown: Murray’s highlight on Saturday was a 57-yard run in the first quarter that led to Arizona’s first touchdown. He topped the Cardinals in rushing with 74 yards on four carries while also throwing for 245 yards and a touchdown on 27-of-43 passing.

Eye-popping NextGen stat: Murray’s third-quarter touchdown pass to Antoine Wesley was his fifth “dime” this season, which is measured by a pass that’s thrown 30-plus air yards into a tight window, according to NFL Next Gen Stats. The pass had a completion probability of 20%.