'We folded -- point blank. Period.' Arizona Cardinals' 3-6 finish in 2020 'really frustrating'

A 3-6 finish that left the Cardinals out of the playoffs last season is top of mind for players like Kyler Murray who aren't used to losing. Mark J. Rebilas/USA TODAY Sports

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- Coach Kliff Kingsbury didn't waste any time at Arizona Cardinals' training camp addressing the ghost of last season.

In the first team meeting, in the Renaissance Hotel across the street from State Farm Stadium, Kingsbury talked about how 2020 ended -- in a tailspin, with the Cardinals finishing the season 3-6, losing to two third-string quarterbacks in two win-and-your-in games before missing the playoffs. He talked about how this year's edition of the Cardinals could prevent history from repeating itself.

But the third-year coach didn't want to dwell on it, either.

"We want to touch on it early and then move past it," Kingsbury said. "There are enough things that we needed to address from last year and make sure we understood where it went wrong to try not make those same mistakes this year."

Kingsbury's words were necessary, but not required. How last season finished has been top of mind for those 46 players who experienced it. Second-year defensive lineman Rashard Lawrence still watches tape of last season, sometimes when he's back at the hotel, and can't help but think: "We're one, two plays away."

The memory continues to hover over camp as motivation.

"It's hung over out here a lot," wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins said. "Especially Kyler [Murray] not being able to really finish how he want to."

Murray, Arizona's third-year quarterback, has approached this season with a clean-slate mentality. He called it a "new year" and said "last year was last year" and pointed out that what a team did the season before doesn't matter this season. Hidden under his optimism, however, is a frustration that has simmered since last season ended and Murray was forced to watch the playoffs from home.

"It's really frustrating," Murray said. "You're on a playoff type of team and you don't make the playoffs, you look at all the negative things that we did to ourselves. That's the most frustrating [thing]. You can accept getting beat, but when you do it yourself, it's tough. It definitely frustrates you for sure.

"That never goes away."

Running back Chase Edmonds said it's "the elephant in the room" and "we folded -- point blank. Period."

Edmonds also was not shy about this year's goal: "It's definitely playoffs." It's an expectation that has been repeated throughout training camp and Kingsbury is good with that. But, to get to the playoffs this season, the Cardinals needed to address one of Murray's chief complaints about last season: Fixing the small things.

Kingsbury and Murray both pointed out the Cardinals led the NFL in stalled drives because of penalties. In April, Murray told ESPN that winning teams "do everything right, and I don't think that we are there yet." Those issues have started to get addressed, Murray said.

"You can definitely tell," Murray said. "It's a matter of sense of urgency, as far as top down. No nonsense stuff, cracking down on whatever it is."

Edmonds said it goes beyond that. The team needs to find an "identity as an offensive unit this year really early."

"That was one thing where we kind of struggled at the second half of the season last year," Edmonds said. "It was kind of when we got certain looks, teams probably took away our primary identity.

"We got to find unique sets, unique formations, where, whatever it is, where we can specialize in everyone's unique talent."

Those who weren't in Arizona last season can feel the cloud lingering. J.J. Watt sat on owner Michael Bidwill's plane last March, flying from Wisconsin to Arizona after signing with the Cardinals as a free agent, and listened to Bidwill talk about how 2020 ended, where this year's team can get better and what could get them to the playoffs.

It didn't fall on deaf ears.

"You have to understand it because, especially for me, [if] you want to be a leader on a team, you have to know what these guys went through last year and what mindset that they're in going into this season," Watt said. "Because I come in with a very fresh mindset and I come in with a very open mind about what can happen, and all the beautiful possibilities and the great things that can happen here.

"And if somebody from last year has this mindset of 'Oh, we've lost this game by this, because of this,' there can already be a negative connotation to something that I have zero negative connotation attached to it. So, it's part of my job, to remind that person, 'Hey, that doesn't have to be that way, you don't have to think like that when we get into this situation in the fourth quarter.'"