Arizona Cardinals  

 

Kyler Murray shows potential in rallying Arizona Cardinals to tie

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GLENDALE, Ariz. -- Before they discussed his mobility or his arm strength, before they talked about his youth and savvy, before they got into the weeds of why they believe Kyler Murray will be a dominant pro, members of the Cardinals organization spoke about his confidence. Didn't matter if it was the general manager or the future Hall of Fame receiver. The comments all began the same when discussing the rookie No. 1 overall pick on the eve of his pro debut.

"He doesn't fear anything," wideout Larry Fitzgerald said. "He makes bad throws, he makes bad decisions, and he's on to the next play. Seriously, that's a skill right there. He's got a little Brett Favre in him."

On Sunday, the comparison proved fitting as Murray rallied the Cardinals to an improbable 27-27 stalemate with the Lions that no one saw coming early in the fourth quarter. Arizona looked completely outmatched at that point. It trailed by 18 and, offensively, was struggling to get first downs, let alone touchdowns. Of its 11 possessions, eight ended in four plays or fewer, including six in three plays or less. It ran 42 plays and averaged just 2.4 yards per.

"It was three quarters of the worst offense I've ever seen in my life," said first-year coach Kliff Kingsbury. "It was my fault. Bad play calls, just trying to do too much."

Just when things appeared bleakest, with many in the home crowd of 60,687 booing in State Farm Stadium, Murray and the offense found a rhythm. The former Oklahoma star built on the momentum he had generated at the end of the third quarter -- which ended with a field goal -- and directed the unit to points on four consecutive possessions (five overall).

Like any player with aspirations of greatness, which is what Murray openly professes to be seeking, he was at his best when it mattered the most, completing 15 of 19 attempts for 154 yards and two touchdowns in the fourth quarter alone. That was in stark contrast to the first three quarters, when he was 9-for-25 for 70 yards with an interception. He had three passes batted down and was sacked thrice during that time.

"This game is rather humbling, but at the same time, you have to have the backbone to stand in there and fight, because not everything is going to go the way you want it," said backup quarterback Brett Hundley. "This shows his potential. For him, the sky's the limit."

The focus was on Murray and the offense entering the game, not only because of his draft status but also because the Cardinals' first team looked lethargic and, at times, woeful in the preseason. While others pushed the concern button, Murray and Kingsbury cautioned that they had yet to open their playbook. They did not play uptempo or show the route combinations they would use against the Lions.

It created uncertainty among outsiders. Kingsbury was touted for overseeing dynamic college offenses. During his six seasons at Texas Tech, the Red Raiders averaged at least 30 points and ranked in the top 25 in scoring every year. But on Sunday, the first three quarters looked a lot like the preseason. Open receivers were missed. Pressure on Murray was constant. And the defense appeared to be in for a long day after surrendering scores on three straight possessions to open the second quarter. Things were so bad that the Cardinals could not reach the end zone on first-and-goal from the 8.

Running back David Johnson tried to accept responsibility for the delayed start, contending that his coming up a yard short in that goal-to-go situation set the offense back. If true, he atoned with 5:57 to go in regulation, grabbing a 27-yard floater from Murray for the Cardinals' first touchdown. A comeback still seemed like a tall task at that point, considering the Cards would need a stop and another touchdown drive -- plus a two-point conversion -- just to tie the score.

Murray basically shrugged at the circumstances. After the defense forced a punt with 2:31 to play in the fourth, the reigning Heisman winner took the unit 60 yards in nine plays, finding Fitzgerald (eight catches for 113 yards and one touchdown) on a crossing route for the 4-yard score, then locating Christian Kirk to the left for the tying conversion.

"I think I've done this long enough to know that no game is ever over until that clock gets all the way down to zero," Lions coach Matt Patricia said. "So, I think for us, during the game, it was never a situation where we felt we had the game at all. We knew that they're a very dangerous offense. They have dangerous players on that side of the ball, and they can score fast and they have a real good defense."

While Fitzgerald's catch energized the crowd and, perhaps, the offense, it was Murray's cool that belied the rally. He owned the offense as a veteran would. He was telling players where to line up, what to do and what their responsibilities were.

"He's trying to get everyone to have a tempo to our offense because, for us, it's kind of new," said Johnson, who 18 carries for 82 yards and six receptions for 55 yards and a score. "He's trying to get everyone involved and get the ball moving down the field faster."

Murray, who finished 29 of 54 for 308 yards, two scores and an interception, was critical of his performance and that of the offense in general. Typically a young man of few words, he holds himself to a high standard and prefers to speak in generalities rather than detail, particularly when discussing his performance.

"At some point, something had to happen," he said of the game. "That was kind of the mindset. I feel like I was gonna do everything in my power to kind of get it going. It felt really bad at times, but it ended up opening up. We had to keep staying course, keep fighting."

His resolve is what stuck with teammates afterward. It endears him to them. As does his confidence.

"He carries himself with a chip on his shoulder, not to the point of being arrogant or cocky, but it's a good thing because that's why he was able to do what he did today," said right guard J.R. Sweezy. "He's going to continue to grow and get better and he's going to be a top quarterback in this league in no time."

Follow Jim Trotter on Twitter at @JimTrotter_NFL

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