Following the playoff exit on Monday night, several Arizona Cardinals players defended their coach Kliff Kingsbury to reporters on Tuesday.
Kingsbury has been target among NFL fans on social media and writers after Arizona dropped five of its final six games, including their season-ending rout by NFC West rival Los Angeles Rams, 34-11, in the wild-card playoff round.
Offensive lineman and co-captain D.J. Humphries promptly answered "yes" if he feels Kingsbury is the right head coach for the team.
Kingsbury has a history of stellar starts and crash landings by the teams he's coached.
— azcentral sports (@azcsports) January 18, 2022
He was fired from Texas Tech after he built a 35-40 record from 2013 to 2018, and went 19-30 during those season's second halves .
In his three years with the Cardinals, he's built a 15-5-1 record through the first seven weeks of each season, but they've dwindled down the stretch to 9-19.
That includes a 7-0 start this season. The Cardinals had the league's best record in Weeks 4 through 12, then dropped three consecutive chances in December to clinch a playoff spot, losing to the Rams, Detroit Lions, and Indianapolis Colts. The Cardinals finished at 11-7, and reached their first postseason appearance since 2015.
Kingsbury said Cardinals management will "do a deep dive" evaluating his coaching staff over the next few days, and hasn't done research on why his teams trend downward in latter stages of seasons.
Kingsbury attributed what Kyler Murray and J.J. Watt titled the team's "massive failure" after losing in the playoffs to injuries suffered by their top players — DeAndre Hopkins, Murray and Watt. They missed a combined 20 games after their Week 7 win over the Houston Texans on Oct. 24.
"We started hot, there's no doubt," Kingsbury said. "I think Week 7, 8, you lose Hop, you lose J.J., you lose K-1 (Murray), that obviously makes it tough. I thought we did a good job overcoming adversity there, going 2-1 with Colt (McCoy), winning two big road games in the division, and then later on when adversity struck we didn't respond as well."
Cardinals wideout Antoine Wesley, who played for Kingsbury at Texas Tech, supported him longtime coach who helped add him to Cardinals roster this season.
“It’s not a consistent issue. I feel that the team we get off track and we need to stay on track and make sure we have his back," Wesley said. "So, I don’t think it’s a consistent thing. It’s more of an ‘us’ thing than a ‘him’ thing.”
Cardinals veteran inside linebacker Jordan Hicks said he and Kingsbury have grown closer in their working relationship, and has helped "calm me down at times" when Hicks dealt with being told by General Manager Steve Keim he'd lose his starting spot to rookie Zaven Collins during training camp and was given permission to request a trade.
"He’s been really good for me through that whole process, so it’s been a pleasure working for him and working with him," Hicks said. "He’s a great coach. I love being around him, his intensity, his ability to lead. I’ve had nothing but awesome experiences with him.”
Kingsbury has one year left on his four-year contract.
Zach Ertz, who played 12 games for the Cardinals after he was traded from the Philadelphia Eagles on Oct. 15, believes Kingsbury should retain his post and not change what he's been building.
“I think you’ve seen the progress the past three years, going from three wins before he got here to five wins, to eight wins to 11 wins,” Ertz said. “He’s so, so smart offensively, and I think he’s just continuing to get better, from what I’ve heard, in terms of leadership and just managing this football team. Each and every year it’s improved.
"And I think he’s one of the best offensive minds in this league. And he’s got a quarterback that’s perfect for him and his system, and their gonna win a lot of games together."
Baker returns home from L.A. hospital
The Cardinals revealed via Twitter on Tuesday Budda Baker is safely back in Arizona after he suffered a concussion from a scary helmet-to-helmet collision with Rams running back Cam Akers in their playoff matchup Monday.
Tuesday update on Budda Baker:
Budda stayed overnight at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles for continued evaluation, imaging and testing.
He was cleared by the physicians there, released this morning and is on his way back to Arizona. pic.twitter.com/GIt1s8k24l
— Mark Dalton (@CardsMarkD) January 18, 2022
Before Baker was cleared by physicians to leave Cedar-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles, he posted an Instagram video from his hospital bed Tuesday morning thanking people who reached out to him, “everything came out clean, I’m gonna make a full recovery” and is excited to “get back to Arizona.”
Baker is among the Cardinals' four Pro Bowl selections and one their two starters with Chandler Jones in the league's all-star game in February.
Hopkins, injury updates
Kingsbury said Hopkins "should be fine over the next month or so" as he recovers from season-ending knee surgery on a torn MCL he suffered on Dec. 13 against the Rams.
In addition, Kingsbury said offensive lineman Justin Murray had a back procedure, should be released by Feb. 28, and "he'll have plenty of time to prepare for training camp" in July.
Murray went on injured reserve Oct. 8 after playing their first three games.
2022 draft prospects, free agents
Kingsbury said Cardinals management will begin evaluating the roster starting Tuesday through exit interviews "while it's fresh." That also will help in determining their 2022 draft evaluation process.
Arizona has the first round's 23rd pick, and additional selections in Rounds 2, 3, 6 and 7.
"We stay abreast of those prospects throughout the year. Obviously, we have game to prepare for, but we'll make sure that we kind of know who's out there for when that evaluation period comes."
They have many players entering free agency on March 16. Of note are pass rusher Chandler Jones, running backs Chase Edmonds and James Conner, WRs A.J. Green and Christian Kirk, backup QB Colt McCoy, tight ends Zach Ertz and Maxx Williams, and cornerback Robert Alford.
Ertz wants to stay in Arizona
One of the biggest reasons why Ertz came to the Cardinals was because his best friend and former Eagles teammate Hicks recruited him last off-season.
But as Hicks enters his four-year deal's final year, he didn't reveal if he'll seek another trade request or remain in Arizona next season.
“We’ll see. I’ve been so focused on this past game. We’ll see how it all shakes out. I’m not ready to answer that question yet," Hicks said.
Ertz knows he want to stay in the Valley, but acknowledged that's out of his control.
"Obviously things are still new. I haven’t thought about it, honestly," Ertz said. "I’ve loved my time here in Arizona. I’d love the opportunity to continue here. There’s a lot of things out of my control. We got a lot of players who are free agents as well, so it may not be even up to me."
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This article originally appeared on Arizona Republic: Cardinals defend Kingsbury as head coach after playoff loss to Rams