The Cardinals looked like the best team in the NFL halfway through the 2021 NFL season. They were 8-1 through nine games and had the best record in the NFC. His only loss in the first half of the season came against the Packers thanks to a miscommunication between AJ Green and Kyler Murray on a possible go-ahead touchdown with less than a minute left.
Arizona looked like a potential Super Bowl contender. He had an explosive offense and a defense that pulled off enough timely stops to be considered an effective unit. Kliff Kingsbury was receiving legitimate Coach of the Year consideration, even earning an endorsement from Bill Belichick for his performance.
However, something familiar happened to the Cardinals in the second half of the season. They suffered a total collapse. The team fell off its wheels and went 3-5 in the regular season and squandered both the inside run to the No. 1 seed and the NFC West title.
Arizona lost five of its last six games, including its embarrassing 34-11 playoff loss against the Rams, during which the Cardinals found themselves down 21 points before they could generate positive yards and a first down.
“It was a massive failure, from what we were able to do, to what we showed we can do, to today,” Cardinals veteran JJ Watt said, per Darren Urban from the team’s official website. “There is no other way to describe it.”
The blame for the Cardinals’ failure must certainly be shared. Murray struggled at times down the stretch and in the playoffs. Wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins wasn’t healthy and the team’s offensive line wasn’t holding up either. And defensively, the team just couldn’t stop the run consistently, and that gave them trouble against passing play action.
But Kingsbury deserves some scrutiny for his performance. Their teams have routinely faded down the stretch and Arizona’s late-season performance in 2021 is no exception.
Kliff Kingsbury’s record with Cardinals, Texas Tech
Kingsbury has been the Cardinals coach for three seasons. He has led the team to improvements year after year, but his record at the end of the season is abysmal.
Every year, Kingsbury has gotten Arizona off to a solid or hot start. However, it never lasts, and the team often fades down the stretch. That’s what happened during his sophomore season, when the Cardinals failed to win the No. 7 seed in the NFC playoffs and instead watched the Bears win it. And this season, they blew a two-game lead in the NFC West with five games left.
|2021||10-2||1-5||Lost 34-11 in the wild card round|
It’s worth noting that the Cardinals’ roster wasn’t strong in 2019, so it certainly took a toll on the then-rookie coach. And in 2020, Murray battled through injury and wasn’t himself down the stretch. Still, its downward trend in 2021 is concerning when combined with those two previous regressions.
That said, Kingsbury’s poor performance should come as no surprise. He coached at Texas Tech for six years before joining the Cardinals, and during his time in that program, the Red Raiders frequently started the year well but dealt with late-season meltdowns. They were very similar to the Cardinals in that regard, although Texas Tech usually opened with easier non-conference games and Texas, Oklahoma, and Oklahoma State were usually on the schedule late in the season.
Kliff Kingsbury’s end of season as head coach…
• ’13: lost 5 of 6
• ’14: lost 4 of 6
• ’15: Lost 4 of 6
• ’16: Lost 6 of 8
• ’17: Lost 6 of 8
• ’18: lost 5 of 5
• ’19: lost 7 of 9
• ’20: lost 5 of 7
• ’21: Lost 5 of 6 pic.twitter.com/t7e0C1rWC7
— The Action Network (@ActionNetworkHQ) January 18, 2022
For those looking for a less arbitrary split, Kingsbury’s NFL record plummets after October. He is 15-8-1 through the first two months of the season with the Cardinals and just 9-17 in the latter part of the NFL schedule.
As games become more meaningful, the Cardinals have tended to wither. that does not fall entirely in Kingsbury, of course. You only need to see Murray’s horrendous Carson Wentz-style pick-six against the Rams to remind you.
But still, a third straight late-season collapse at the NFL level isn’t good news for Kingsbury, and it will raise questions about his future and job security.
Will the Cardinals fire Kliff Kingsbury?
There has yet to be any indication that the Cardinals will fire Kingsbury. Given that the team was an NFC contender for most of the season and made the playoffs, it makes sense that there were few rumors about his job security up to this point.
That said, the team’s latest late-season collapse and humiliating loss to the Rams might at least make the Cardinals reconsider.
Kingsbury signed a four-year deal with the team in 2019, so he will enter the final year of his pact in 2022. The Cardinals will have to make a decision about their future in the not-too-distant future in one way or another. or another. If they don’t think Kingsbury can right these late-season mistakes, they could move on now.
Since 2000, nine coaches have been fired after producing a winning season the year before. Of those nine, five made it to the playoffs and two, Mike Mularkey and Steve Mariucci, won playoff games.
|2017||titans||mike mularkey||9-7||divisional round|
|2017||lions||Jim Caldwell||9-7||lost playoffs|
|2014||broncos||john fox||12-4||divisional round|
|2008||buccaneers||jon grden||9-7||lost playoffs|
|2006||chargers||Marty Schottenheimer||14-2||divisional round|
|2005||vikings||mike tick||9-7||lost playoffs|
|2002||49ers||steve marucci||10-6||divisional round|
|2001||buccaneers||tony dungy||9-7||Wild Card Round|
So if the Cardinals are so disappointed, it wouldn’t be too much of a surprise to see them make a trade. He would be the third coach to be fired in the past 21 years after winning 11 regular-season games. At the same time, nothing has yet been reported about Kingsbury’s job being in jeopardy, so it sounds like Arizona isn’t planning on letting him go.
If Kingsbury returns to the Cardinals, expect him to be sitting on the bench in the desert with one goal for 2022: Finish the season on a solid note for the first time in his head coaching career.