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Another Cardinals loss is like Groundhog Day; plus doctor's take on Murray injury

Howard Balzer Avatar
December 19, 2022

“Well, what if there is no tomorrow? There wasn’t one today.”

Bill Murray as Phil Connors in “Groundhog Day”

I couldn’t help but think of that brilliant 1993 movie today while watching another three hours of painful Cardinals football.

For those that need reminding (or don’t know what I’m talking about), Murray played Connors, who was a cynical TV weatherman covering Groundhog Day in Punxsutawney, Pa., when he got trapped in a time loop and had to relive Feb. 2 over and over and over.

The film surely had impact on pop culture as the term Groundhog Day came to signify a “monotonous, unpleasant and repetitive situation.”

That sure describes this lost season, which has had just three Sundays and one Thursday where anyone had good feelings when the game was over.

Today in Denver was undoubtedly “monotonous, unpleasant and repetitive.”

It began with more pregame reports concerning the headlines of the week involving quarterback Kyler Murray and former offensive line coach Sean Kugler. More on that later in this story.

It continued 90 minutes before game time with the news that Marco Wilson had joined fellow cornerbacks Byron Murphy Jr. and Antonio Hamilton on the inactive list. Murphy was declared out Friday and it wasn’t surprising that Hamilton was unable to play.

But Wilson? Even though limited in practice during the week because of a neck injury suffered Monday night against the Patriots and listed as questionable Friday, no one in the media even asked coach Kliff Kingsbury about his status all week, figuring he would play.

It continued in the first half with an offense that had four three-and-outs and totaled 45 yards on a field-goal drive that accounted for more than half of the team’s woeful 87 first-half yards on 30 plays (2.9 average).

Of course, the Denver offense wasn’t much better. The Broncos had 126 yards on 33 plays (3.8 average) in the first two quarters with 51 on their opening possession that resulted in a field goal.

Quarterback Brett Rypien was sacked six times with three by defensive end J.J. Watt, whose forced fumble of Rypien led to a 50-yard Matt Prater field goal that provided the Cardinals a 6-3 halftime lead.

Disaster, of course, struck on the third play of the third quarter when quarterback Colt McCoy gained a yard for a first down and suffered a concussion. He was done for the day.

Still, Trace McSorley had a nice 14-yard completion to tight end Trey McBride, James Conner ran for 14 yards and McSorley ran for eight yards on third-and-17 that enabled Prater to connect from 55 yards for a 9-3 lead on a possession that lasted 6:05.

Would the defense hold up? It would not, to say the least as the Broncos smartly turned to the running game in which Latavius Murray and Marlon Mack had combined for only 53 yards in the first half.

Did the Cardinals wilt in the mile0higfh altitude when Murray rumbled for 35 yards on the next play after the field goal? It sure looked that way. Murray had 11 yards on two other runs and after Rypien connected with tight end Eric Tomlinson for 25 yards on two plays, Mack scored from three yards out and suddenly the Broncos were ahead 10-9.

The Cardinals had another three-and-out that was aided by a questionable intentional grounding penalty that lost 11 yards on first down.

Field position then flipped after Watt was guilty of a neutral-zone violation on third-and-14. Rypien then completed an 11-yard pass to Jerry Jeudy for a first down. Mack ran for eight yards on third-and-6 from the Cardinals 31-yard line and even though safety Budda Baker then intercepted Rypien, he was tackled at the 2-yard line.

On Denver’s ensuing 56-yard drive, Mack ran for 23 yards on two carries while Murray had two runs for 12, including a 10-yard touchdown for a 17-9 Denver lead.

When McSorley was intercepted by safety Justin Simmons, his second of the game, on third-and-8, the return and personal foul on guard Will Hernandez set the Broncos up at the Cardinals 5-yard line. On the second play, Tomlinson scored on a 3-yard pass and it was 24-9 with 9:29 remaining.

McSorley did lead a 78-yard drive that featured pass plays of 29 yards McBride, 18 to wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins and 16 to Conner, who also had two drops on screens. Conner had a 9-yard run from the 10 on a direct snap and then scored from the 1 to cut the deficit to 24-15, but for some inexplicable reason Kingsbury opted to go for two.

Yes, officials missed an obvious pass interference call on the 2-point pass to Hopkins, but there’s no guartantee if it had been called, there would have been success one yard closer. That kept it a two-score game with 6:01 remaining and while the Broncos punted on the next possession, they still ran eight plays for 28 yards, got two first downs and ran 4:13 off the clock.

The gloomy Groundhog Day ended with McSorley’s second interception on a badly underthrown pass to Hopkins.

The Broncos ran 34 plays for 198 yards in the second half as Murray (15-86) and Mack (4-28) combined for 114 yards. Murray finished the game with 24 carries for 130 yards and Mack five for 37.

The Cardinals had one sack in the second half and for the game Rypien was an efficient 21-for-26 for 197 yards and a 95.9 passer rating.

Without the Cardinals top three cornerbacks, those active were rookie Christian Matthew, Jace Whittaker, who was signed this week after being released from the practice squad on Nov. 9, and Nate Hairston, who has been on the practice squad since Sept. 21 after being released by the Vikings in the cutdown to 53 players.

Broncos wide receiver Jerry Jeudy had seven catches for 76 yards, but it wasn’t the passing game that beat the Cardinals.

It was the failure to stop the run to go with an offense that managed 240 yards of 59 plays (4.1 average).

Hernandez returned to the lineup at right guard after missing four games and Max Garcia flipped from right guard, where he had started the last two games, to left guard. It was the 10th different starting line combination the Cardinals have had in 14 games.

Hernandez’s return didn’t help Conner, who had run for 205 yards in the previous two games. Sunday, he had 63 yards on 16 attempts and eight were for two yards or fewer, not including his touchdown run. That contributed to a 2-for-12 conversion rate on third down and nine three-and-outs in which the Cardinals ran 21 plays for 29 yards.

Meanwhile, McCoy and McSorley barely registered passer ratings. McCoy was 13-for-21 for 78 yards and a rating of 49.3, while McSorley finished 7 of 15 for 95 yards and a 27.8 rating. Combined, their passer rating was 33.7.

The Cardinals have now lost four consecutive games and are 0-7 in games where they have a minus turnover ratio. With a 4-10 record, only the Bears (3-11) and Texans (1-11-1) are worse in the NFL. The Broncos are also 4-10 and the Rams could drop to 4-10 if they lose to the Packers Monday night.

The Cardinals began this season with dreams of being the third straight team to host the Super Bowl in their own stadium. Frankly, this group wasn’t that good, which was realistically reflected by their Vegas over/under for the season being eight or nine wins.

Now, the current dream is that they can somehow reverse their fortunes in the final three games, but that appears unlikely.

Still, Watt talked about the message he said to the team afterward.

“I was very honest with the guys after the game. I was extremely honest with them,” he said. “I told them, ‘Listen, the situation is what it is. We’re out of the playoffs. We’re in a very difficult spot. You got to be a professional, you’ve got to hold yourself accountable as a man and as a player. You’re not only playing for these last three games for this team, but you’re putting film on tape for the next year as well and it sucks, I mean, trust me. I don’t like having to stand up there and say that, but that’s the truth. You’ve got to be professional and do what you need to do because the reality is you’re playing for a job for next year. You’re playing for the future.’

“It’s a bad place to be with three games left, but that’s what it is, and I appreciate the guys. We’ve got guys going down hurt and coming back in the game. It’s not like we got guys tapping out. We got guys working and trying and giving effort. It’s not a good situation.”

Kingsbury said, “I’ve been really appreciative of the guy’s effort and professionalism. It’s just been a lot to overcome at times, and then we can’t compound it with some mistakes we’ve had. It’s been the perfect storm at times to get us where we’re at, but they continue to show up, play hard and work hard. That’s all you can ask of the group we have.”

They are the epitome of Groundhog Day, which celebrates the 30th anniversary of its release on Feb. 12, the date for Super Bowl LVII.

Or as Connors ruminated and dreamed at one point in the movie, “I was in the Virgin Islands once. I met a girl. We ate lobster, drank piña coladas. At sunset we made love like sea otters. That was a pretty good day. Why couldn’t I get that day over and over and over?”

The Cardinals and the Red Sea would surely settle for a lot less than that.

Kugler and Murray updates

Ian Rapoport of NFL Media was busy Sunday morning with updates on the Sean Kugler case as well as what’s facing quarterback Kyler Murray in his rehab of a torn ACL.

As we know, Kugler was fired for allegedly groping a female security guard while the team was in Mexico City for their Nov. 21 game against the 49ers.

Friday, the employment law firm Shields Petitti filed a Request for Arbitration denying the allegations. The Cardinals responded with a statement, saying they stand by their decision, claiming “the process will result in a much different set of facts than those presented today and that it had good cause to terminate Mr. Kugler’s employment.”

Relating to Kugler’s assertion that there might have been “miscommunication or mistaken identity, Rapoport wrote, “However, a source with direct knowledge of the situation said there was absolutely no mistaken or uncertain identity in the Mexico City incident with Kugler. Kugler was clearly and positively identified — including on hotel video and by eyewitnesses.”

As for Murray, according to Dr. David Chao (@profootball doc/SICscore.com), Rapoport minimized the presence of a torn meniscus along with the torn ACL.

Rapoport referred to the injury as a “clean ACL tear” with no other ligament damage, while acknowledging there was also “an associated meniscus tear that will be stitched up to keep the integrity of the knee. But the ACL tear was as clean as possible.”

Not so fast, according to Chao, who was the team physician for the San Diego Chargers for 16 years. He told gophnx.com that no doctor would refer to an ACL tear as “clean” when there is also a torn meniscus.

In fact, Chao suggests that the meniscus issue means there’s “no way” Murray will be ready to play by Week 1. He said the meniscus tear itself is usually a six-month recovery and while some of that will be concurrent with the ACL rehab, it will delay the ACL recovery/

“It’s a significant deal,” Chao said of the meniscus tear. “During the initial recovery there is bracing with limited range of motion and no weight being put on the leg. Full range of motion won’t occur at the start of rehab.”

Rapoport did say the recovery could be as little as 8.5 months or “potentially longer.” Kingsbury has said Murray will likely have surgery after Christmas. Assuming he has it by the end of the year, eight-and-a-half months will be around mid-September.

However, what’s most important is that Chao said he doesn’t believe “he can be Kyler Murray at the start of the season” and that it could take until the middle of the season or later.


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