Arizona Cardinals' playoff meltdown was one for the record books

INGLEWOOD, Calif. -- Nothing could help the Arizona Cardinals on Monday night.

Not J.J. Watt returning almost two months early from a shoulder injury.

Not an 8-1 record on the road.

Not having both running backs, James Conner and Chase Edmonds, on the field for the same game since Week 15.

That's because nothing went right for the Cardinals in their first playoff game since 2015. Arizona turned in one of the worst performances in NFL playoff history Monday, losing 34-11 to the Los Angeles Rams, ending their season at 11-7 with five losses in their final six games.

"It was a massive failure from what we were capable of doing and from what we showed we can do to today, there's no other way to describe it than as a failure," Watt said.

Monday's game was over by the time Warren G. and Montell Jordan took the stage at halftime.

Arizona had minus-3 yards in the first quarter -- second worst by any team in a first quarter in the past 35 postseasons. By the end of their fourth possession, the Cardinals had four punts on four three-and-out drives and minus-4 yards to show for it.

"You come out against a really good team and don't do anything right for first two quarters, that's what's gonna happen," coach Kliff Kingsbury said. "We didn't do much right, coaching or playing, in the first half."

At one point, Rams wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. had more passing yards than Cardinals quarterback Kyler Murray -- 40 to 28.

"I play to win the Super Bowl," Murray said. "That's the goal, that's the mission, is to win the Super Bowl not to make the playoffs or go to the second round.

"We fell short."

The Cardinals' offense just couldn't find a spark. It couldn't even find a match. The first time the Cardinals got a first down came with 6:45 left in the first half. Arizona didn't have a play in Rams territory until there was 6:48 left in the third quarter. They went 0-for-9 on third down, just the eighth instance of 0-for-9 or worse in a playoff game during the Super Bowl era. Arizona had eight consecutive drives result in zero first downs, a fumble or an interception, which was the longest such streak to open a playoff game since the Oakland Raiders in 1980.

Arizona got out of rhythm early, Kingsbury said, which forced the Cardinals to drop back more than it had wanted. That's not the way to beat the Rams.

"When you're dropping back against that that group, it's not a good recipe," Kingsbury said. "And that's what we've found ourselves in. So, we just made it for a tough night."

The Cardinals' 183 yards of total offense were the fewest allowed by the Rams this season.

The Rams' defense overwhelmed the Cardinals' offense early and often. It sacked Murray twice and pressured him throughout, including about midway through the second quarter when it put the game away. With Arizona at its own 4, Rams linebacker Troy Reeder chased Murray into the end zone. Instead of throwing the ball away, Murray threw an underhand pass that was picked off by Rams cornerback David Long Jr., who returned it 3 yards for a touchdown to put the Rams up 21-0.

That sealed Arizona's fate: Teams were 82-0 this season when leading by 21 points or more.

The obit for Arizona's season could've been written in front of the halftime meal.

By halftime:

  • Murray had seven completions and the deepest was 1 air yard, for an average of minus-0.7 air yards.

  • Murray had just one rush for minus-1 yards and no scrambles. Murray's 88 rushes -- including 30 scrambles -- during the regular season were fourth among quarterbacks.

  • The Cardinals averaged 1.5 yards per play, the second fewest in the first half of a playoff game over the past 20 seasons.

But all the blame can't be put on the offense. Arizona's defense had its own struggles, starting with the Rams' first offensive first play when Rams running back Sony Michel went for 35 yards. Rookie cornerback Marco Wilson struggled all game against Beckham Jr., who caught a touchdown.

It was one mistake after another for the Cardinals, one bad play followed by another bad play. Arizona's 7-0 start was all but a memory Monday night in Inglewood. The Cardinals finished the season 4-7 after being the best of the NFC for the first half of the year.

The second half meltdown comes a year after the Cardinals finished 3-6 to miss the playoffs.

"I put a lot on my shoulders, put a lot on myself and to dream of this moment and to then to be in the playoffs, first game of the playoffs, and then to play the way I did, play the way we did," Murray said, "it's disappointing."