Maybe the Arizona Cardinals should have stayed on the road. Home cooking doesn’t seem to sit well with them.
Undefeated on the road, the Cardinals returned home the first time in a month and fell flat again Monday night, losing 30-23 to the Los Angeles Rams to tighten the NFC West race.
“We obviously have to play better in this stadium,” Cardinals coach Kliff Kingsbury said. “The crowd was incredible tonight. Great energy, thought our guys played with great energy, we just didn’t play a clean enough game.”
The road has treated Arizona well. The Cardinals had an NFL-best 10-2 record after beating Chicago last Sunday, their seventh road win including a 37-20 victory over the Rams on Oct. 3.
At home, Arizona (10-3) lost two of its first five, to Green Bay and Carolina. The home-field disadvantage reared its head again Monday night, allowing the Rams (9-4) to pull within a game of Arizona’s division lead.
“We didn’t play a clean game,” said Cardinals receiver A.J. Green, who had seven catches for 102 yards to eclipse 10,000 for his career. “Penalties, turnovers, you can’t do that against a good team like the Rams.”
Arizona’s defense, fourth in scoring and fifth overall in the NFL, had no answer for Matthew Stafford or Cooper Kupp.
Stafford picked the Cardinals apart, throwing for 287 yards and three touchdowns on 23-of-30 passing. He hit Odell Beckham Jr. on a 2-yard TD in the second quarter and found Van Jefferson for a 52-yard score early in the third quarter when the Cardinals had a mix-up in the secondary.
Stafford’s best throw of the night might have been a 4-yard TD to Cupp, a perfectly placed quick out that had Arizona defensive back Marco Wilson throwing his helmet on the sideline in exasperation.
Kupp frustrated the Cardinals all night.
The NFL’s leading receiver was quiet in the first game against Arizona, catching five passes for 64 yards. He found plenty of open spaces in the rematch, finishing with a career-high 13 catches for 123 yards and a TD.
“We just have to tackle better,” Cardinals defensive end Zach Allen said. “Obviously, they’ve got great players and a great coaching staff. It’s not like they’re a lousy team.”
Arizona’s offense spent the night getting in its own way.
Kyler Murray, who threw for 268 yards and two TDs the first go-round with Los Angeles, put up big numbers to go with some big mistakes.
He threw for 383 yards and ran for 61 more, but had no touchdowns and a pair of interceptions. The two picks, both on tipped passes, were followed by Los Angeles touchdowns.
“Just a couple plays here and there,” Murray said. “We fought, we were right there when we needed it, but we just didn’t make those big plays we’ve been making.”
Even with all the mistakes, Arizona had a final shot.
James Connor was the Cardinals’ best offensive weapon all night, catching nine passes for 91 yards and scoring twice on the ground. His bulling 8-yard run through several tacklers pulled Arizona within 27-20 early in the fourth quarter.
After Matt Gay kicked a 33-yard field goal, Arizona’s Matt Prater hit his third of the night, from 49 yards, to pull the Cardinals within seven.
The Cardinals got the play they needed, recovering the onside kick.
Then they went backward.
Murray had a 15-yard run negated by holding on Sean Harlow and a false start penalty on the next play forced Arizona to try a desperation heave into the end zone.
The Cardinals never got the chance. Murray evaded a couple of tacklers, but couldn’t escape Aaron Donald, taking an 18-yard sack as time ran out.
“I thought we were going to go down there and score. That was the mindset,” Green said. “We just kept shooting ourselves in the foot.”
The good news: The Cardinals are on the road next week, at woeful Detroit.
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John Marshall, The Associated Press