When there's a fumble in the NFL, you almost always see every player from both teams go after it, but that's not what happened on Monday night in Arizona. In one of the most baffling plays of the year, the Cardinals made no effort to recover a Matthew Stafford fumble, and in the end, it's a decision that might have cost them the game.
The drama started in the third quarter after Leonard Floyd picked off a pass by Kyler Murray. Following the interception, the Rams got the ball on Arizona's 19-yard line. From there, the Rams used five plays to drive down to the six-yard line.
On a second-and-goal from the six, Stafford dropped back to pass and that's when this happened:
That's Chandler Jones hitting Stafford just before the throw, which caused a fumble. Apparently, everyone on the field assumed that it was an incomplete pass, because NO ONE made an effort to recover the ball. Usually, you'll see the defense jump on any loose ball JUST IN CASE it's ruled a fumble, but that's not what happened here. Instead, the Cardinals allowed Stafford to run more than 10 yards to recover the fumble.
Budda Baker got all over Jordan Phillips after Stafford recovered his own fumble because Phillips was celebrating instead of going after the ball.— Josh Weinfuss (@joshweinfuss) December 14, 2021
Cardinals D lazy for allowing stafford to grab his own fumble— Brice Butler (@Brice_Butler) December 14, 2021
While the game was being played, there was some question about whether this was a fumble or an incomplete pass, but it was definitely ruled a fumble on the field. The Rams ended up running their next play from the eight-yard line, which is where Stafford recovered the ball.
If the Cardinals had recovered, the play would have been reviewed and it's possible that it might have been changed to an incomplete pass, but the replays seemed to be inconclusive. Plus, Stafford clearly thought it was a fumble, because he raced to recover the ball as soon as it left his hand. At one point, Stafford was pointing to his teammates trying to tell them to recover the ball.
Although the ball appears to be close to the sideline in the image above, that's an optical illusion. It had actually just bounced in the air and if you watch the video again, you'll see that the ball was much closer to the number 10 that's painted on the field.
As you can see below, Phillips was literally the closest person to the ball, but he made no effort to recover it.
The reason this fumble was big is because the Rams took over the game after this play. After Stafford recovered the ball, the Cardinals got called for holding on the next play, which was a third down. With their fresh set of downs, the Rams were eventually able to score a touchdown to go up 27-13. If the Cardinals had recovered the ball, they would have been down just 20-13 and their offense would have taken over possession with a chance to tie the game. On a night where the Cards rolled up 447 yards of offense, which was 91 more than the Rams, it's not crazy to think that Arizona might have scored on that drive.
In the NFL, one play is sometimes the difference in whether a team wins or loses a game and in this case, if this one play had gone differently, the Cardinals might have been able to win.