The Bottom Line:
The two teams faced one another without their starting QBs (Kyler Murray (sidelined for most of the day with a bum ankle and Goff (thumb surgery). With Murray nicked early, the Cardinals were forced to go into battle with backup QB Chris Streveler. Rams had to rely on backup QB John Wolford.
The Ram backup and his teammates did it via the combination of (1) happy feet, (2) (mostly) mistake-free football and (3) winning most of the one on one battles (most notably 3rd down conversions).
Cards opened the scoring with an 11-yd Streveler to Ward TD pass and looked like they might run the Rams right out of LA, but laid out the Welcome mat in the 2nd quarter with safety and a pick six. (The safety stemmed from one of those "end zone infractions the Cardinals are becoming famous for. The Pick Six looked as though the play was going in the opposite direction, with Streveler underthrowing a deep pass to a wide open Cardinal receiver, with Troy Hill returning it 86 yards to pay-dirt.
The 9-point "gift" was enough to decide the football game, and the lack of scoring-punch from Streveler made catching up all but impossible.
Cards couldn't light the torch offensively, and they couldn't stop the Ram running attack defensively. Lack of production with so much on the line wasn't helpful. One might say - the Cardinals didn't play well enough to deserve a playoff spot.
1st Quarter Ari LA
Ari 4:51 Jonathan Ward 11 pass from Chris Streveler (Mike Nugent Kick) AZ 7 - LAR 0
2nd Quarter Ari LA
LA 0:43 FG Matt Gay 28 AZ 7 - LAR 3
LA 9:39 Safety, Penalty on J.Pugh enforced in the end zone Z 7 - LAR 5
LA 14:40 Troy Hill 84 interception return (Matt Gay Kick) LAR 12 - AZ 7
3rd Quarter Ari LA
LA 8:44 FG Matt Gay 34 LAR 15 - AZ 7
4th Quarter Ari LA
LA 0:35 FG Matt Gay 27 LAR 18 - AZ 7
Final Score: Rams 18 - Cardinals 7
Have a nice off-season.
'Tis the time for contemplating "who should stay and who should go." Is this the year when the Bidwills fire Keim? Or did Steve do a heroic job dealing with COVID-19 and other atypical challenges? Has the team improved over the past season? Or has it merely treaded water? Does the team have enough cap and financial juice to plug empty roster holes and prevent the existing ones from leaking? Is Kliff King's job secure- at least for the comimng year?
Anything can happen, but here's my take: Back in "days of old", an upcoming team could rely on a handful of competitors who repeatedly did dumb things and could be tsen advantage of. . That's all changed, of late.
2020 saw several clubs hiring smart management groups capable of turning things around in a single season. They typically made shrewd personnel moves and re-set the cultures of their football teams. Competing with these guys has become more of a challenge of late - In the NFC West, Bidwill, Keim, Kingsbury & Co. have to deal with the likes of the Niners, Rams and Seahawks. Outside the division, there are the Raiders Chiefs and the Belichick crew. And keep an eye on the Giants young coach. (Judge).
Along with the standard challenges that involved smart play calling, evaluating talent etc., these smart guys were paying more attention to such "non-football" vibes as how a player feels as he enters the training facility, spends time in the weight room, eats in the cafeteria or breaks out tape in the film room.
So I ask the question that teams may duck when they review their most recent season: "How do we conduct our business? And is this good enough to compete with the other more successful teams in the NFL? And, most important, what changes will have to be made?" The cliche is that issues of team culture must extend all the way to ticket takers and phone clerks. Of course, doing and saying are two different matters; but IMHO - to remain competitive in the pros will mean asking all the tough questions about every aspect of team operations (big or small or "trivial").
Are the Bidwills and the rest of the Cardinal family up to the challenge? I suspect only those close to the family really know. But I think a stem to stern evaluation of every aspect of the Cardinal team accompanied with a relentless focus on "what it will take to become 'best" is very much in order.