TEMPE, Ariz. (AP) — The best news for the Arizona Cardinals is that the season is nearing an end.
The Cardinals were eliminated from the NFC playoff race after losing to the Broncos 24-15 on Sunday and the team's avalanche of injuries continued. They lost their second quarterback in two weeks when Colt McCoy left with a concussion, and third-string option Trace McSorley couldn't rally the team to a win.
Now fourth-year coach Kliff Kingsbury — who's refused to blame the season's failures solely on injuries — has the familiar dilemma of trying to make lemonade out of a truckload of lemons.
The Cardinals host Tom Brady and the Bucs on Sunday.
“Each week, it seems to be another challenge,” Kingsbury said. “Just game-planning — what can we do to maximize these people? Trying to figure it out is tough sometimes in that short of span. Who can we put where? How can we run plays or coverages that maximize who they are and what they know?"
McCoy was 13 of 21 passing for 78 yards and an interception before his injury. McSorley was 7 of 15 for 95 yards and two interceptions. The Cardinals managed just 240 total yards.
McCoy is still in concussion protocol and it's unclear whether he'll be back to play against the Bucs. Kingsbury said he hopes these last three games are a good opportunity for young players such as LB Cam Thomas, LB Myjai Sanders, TE Trey McBride and CB Christian Matthew to get meaningful reps as they try and bounce back next season.
“We want to try and get a win next week and that’s it,” Kingsbury said. “We’re trying to stay week to week at this point. We want to see who we can get back healthy and go out there and try to execute at a higher level.”
In the face of all the adversity, the Cardinals' veterans are still playing hard. Budda Baker had an interception, J.J. Watt had a three-sack game and WR DeAndre Hopkins led the team with seven catches for 60 yards. Veteran right tackle Kelvin Beachum suffered a knee injury, but still returned to the game.
It says something about Kingsbury's leadership that his best players are still working to win.
“It’s a bad place to be with three games left, but that’s what it is, and I appreciate the guys,” Watt said. “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.”
WHAT NEEDS HELP
The Cardinals were already in a tough spot with all the injuries and now they're running out of quarterbacks. Some of the team's best playmakers such as Hopkins, Marquise Brown and James Conner are healthy, but they need a quarterback who can get them the ball.
Watt continued his career renaissance with three sacks against the Broncos. The 33-year-old now has 9 1/2 sacks this season and is consistently producing at his highest level in years.
The concussion is a tough injury for McCoy, who looked as if he was going to be the starting quarterback down the stretch. Kingsbury left the door open for the 36-year-old to return this week, but McSorley could very well get his first career start.
CBs Antonio Hamilton (back), Byron Murphy Jr. (back) and Marco Wilson (neck) all missed the Broncos game. Kingsbury said all of them are day to day and that Hamilton and Wilson have the best chance to return against the Bucs. ... DE Zach Allen (hand) is likely out at least one more week, but could play in the season's final two games.
9.5 — Watt's 9 1/2 sacks this season are his most since 2018. The three-time AP Defensive Player of the Year will be a free agent after this season and is proving he can still add value for a defense.
The Cardinals play their final home game of the year on Christmas against the Bucs. Arizona has a 1-6 record in games at State Farm Stadium this season.
AP NFL: https://apnews.com/hub/NFL and https://twitter.com/AP_NFL