Kyler Murray had reason to smile last week when he was talking about his new contract, but his expression dropped to serious when he was asked about the way the Cardinals lost to end the season and how he processed that finish.
“You look at all the greats; they have all got beat in a terrible way at one point or another,” Murray said about the playoff loss to the Rams. “In the long-term, it was probably good for us. It was our first playoff experience, my first playoff experience, to feel that pain, that hurt … I’ve done nothing but learn from my mistakes throughout my life and career. Hopefully, the guys do too.
“I know we’ll be better because of that.”
As the Cardinals reported to training camp on Tuesday, the message was clear — the playoff loss, and the season’s overall finish, was a talking point of the offseason. Certainly it was a teaching moment.
But, as coach Kliff Kingsbury said, “that’s not something that will be a rallying cry.”
Safety Budda Baker said he has watched the playoff game multiple times — Baker’s first playoff appearance since the team drafted him in 2017. He’s looked to see what went sideways during an attempted tackle on Rams’ rusher Cam Akers that landed him in the hospital with a concussion, as well as the bigger picture.
“I saw a lot of lackadaisical things,” Baker said. “It felt like guys were ready for the situation; the pregame was good. When we got out there, we were just flat. It was just a better day for them (Rams) and it showed.”
Although Baker remembers the loss and emotions from it vividly, that was last year. He’s focused on a new season and making sure the Cardinals don’t experience that feeling again.
The Rams are Super Bowl champions and aren’t going anywhere. Baker said the Cardinals’ ability to have more success against the Rams this season — the Cardinals did win in Los Angeles in the regular season — would determine by their work now.
Tight end Zach Ertz has used the playoff loss as motivation throughout the offseason. But it’s a new season with a different roster in place. The offseason signings like right guard Will Hernandez and running back Darrel Williams weren’t on the team to experience the pain with them. Neither were the Cardinals’ 2022 draft selections.
Still, like Murray and Baker, Ertz wants to turn the loss into something positive: A better finish to the season.
“We need to be more detailed and we need to start faster,” Ertz said on what went wrong against the Rams. “The end of the season just wasn’t up to our expectations. We have to continue to work hard, trust the process, and find a way to get better at the end of the year. Then take momentum into the playoffs. But there were a lot of lessons to be learned throughout the year.”