All Hail, no hype: Kyler Murray has flipped Cardinals into real NFC title contenders
When Kyler Murray completed his game-winning Hail Mary touchdown pass to DeAndre Hopkins to lift the Cardinals over the Bills in Week 10, no one really should have been surprised or shocked. That was the only kind of jaw-dropping play missing from the endless 2020 highlight reel for Arizona’s dazzling second-year QB.
More importantly, Murray’s high-level passing and running have led to something he has done well throughout his football-playing life — winning. Considering the Cardinals aren’t great at traditional running or on defense, there’s no question the leader of a team that’s now 6-3 and in first place in the tough NFC West belongs on the short list for MVP.
Like Patrick Mahomes and Lamar Jackson in their breakout second NFL seasons before him, the 23-year-old Murray is building his strong Year 2 case by carrying his team. Before even thinking about his efficiency throwing the ball all over the field in Kliff Kingsbury’s fast-paced offense, consider what Murray has done just as a runner.
With his two rushing TDs against Buffalo, Murray became the first QB in the 55-year Super Bowl era to score on the ground in five consecutive games. He was coming off the first 100-yard-plus rushing game of his career in Week 9 against the Dolphins. Murray is now up to 604 rushing yards with 10 TDs for the season. He’s on pace for 1,073 yards and 18 touchdowns on the ground, numbers that would make most running backs in the league envious.
When Murray let the ball go to Hopkins after buying time with his feet, there was, somehow, a good chance the 43-yard pass would be completed, given his big arm and bigger confidence. Murray is also on pace for 4,222 yards passing with 30 TDs.
Murray hinted at the possibility he could push the Cardinals past Russell Wilson’s Seahawks in the division when he outplayed Wilson in helping his team take a Week 7 overtime thriller in Arizona. Four weeks later, he can deal the Cards into a strong lead in the West by delivering another win and a series sweep in Seattle on Thursday night.
Whatever the NFC standings are now, there’s no question the conference will be ultimately decided by which QB saves most of his best play for January. With Murray, the Cardinals are as capable of any other team of getting red-hot in the tournament for Super Bowl 55.
The only difference at the moment between Murray and Wilson, Aaron Rodgers, Tom Brady and Drew Brees, beyond being a lot younger, is the lack of a Super Bowl ring. Carson Wentz isn’t playing like it now, but keep in mind his play once was key to a team winning it all. That same team, still with Wentz as its QB, is currently in playoff position.
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Murray, who has yet to have a “bad game” all season — something all those veterans have experienced — is a most dangerous party-crasher and has put the Cardinals ahead of schedule as a playoff-caliber team under Kingsbury. GM Steve Keim, a one-time Sporting News NFL Executive of the Year, deserves a ton of credit for knowing Murray had the kind of ceiling Arizona needed, instead of letting the team fall to the floor with Josh Rosen.
It hasn’t taken long for Murray to become an “independent” QB, as in he can give his team a chance to win every week despite other offensive and defensive factors possibly dragging it down. That’s why it was unfair to every opponent trying to defend him for Keim and the Cardinals to steal Hopkins from Houston. It has gotten harder to catch Murray, stronger and speedier as the fastest player the modern NFL has ever seen, and it’s a lot harder to cover all of his versatile targets.
The Bills thought they had done a good job corralling Murray’s running and then he shot himself out of a cannon in the second half for two bursts into the end zone that sparked a comeback and eventual minor miracle. In previous recent weeks, when teams were focused on containing Hopkins, Murray lit it up with Christian Kirk. The Cardinals made it a point to get the ball to Hopkins like a No. 1 again Sunday and he was there when Murray needed to trust him most.
All of a sudden, the hype train for Wilson’s first MVP season has been derailed by the Seahawks’ mounting losses and his increased mistakes. At the same time, it’s easier to be all aboard on Murray and Cardinals emerging as the greater NFC title threat from the West. The excitement of watching Murray play and the big fantasy football numbers he produces have converted to the reality that he can find a way for his team to beat anyone, anywhere.
Before he made the most magical play of his NFL career to date with many more to come, Murray had already proved that anything is possible when he’s on the field. The only question regarding Murray’s height now is whether there’s any limit to how high the Cardinals can finish with him this season.
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