Despite 5-win season, Kyler Murray providing renewed hope for Cardinals
The 2019 Cardinals are a closed book gathering dust on the nightstand. They will be easily forgotten.
They’re also a rarity in professional sports.
They finished with a 5-10-1 record, prevailing in just 31 percent of their games. Yet they won more confidence than they lost. They were mostly fun, rarely blown out and clearly caught the attention of network television executives.
They had a losing season and a winning season, all at once.
It all ended with a 31-24 defeat to the Rams on Sunday, when Kyler Murray played despite a nagging hamstring injury; was finally benched for his own well-being late in the fourth quarter; only to be re-inserted for a final drive that could’ve been a storybook ending, thereby cementing his Offensive Rookie of the Year credentials.
This much is undeniable:
Murray became a national obsession when he measured in at 5-10 1/8 at the NFL Combine in Indianapolis. He became the No. 1 overall pick and the toast of football. Records will show he started all 16 games in 2019, a victory few saw coming.
The Cardinals were the benefactors. They couldn’t win in September. They ascended with a three-game winning streak in October. They were grounded by a six-game losing streak. And they sparkled in December, including a signature win in Seattle.
Local optimism exceeds their statistical achievements. The roster is suspiciously short on talent, an indictment on the team-building skills of General Manager Steve Keim. They need to trade David Johnson. They need to sign Kenyan Drake, but only at a reasonable price. And if he’s too expensive, they should just put the money into the offensive line and give the job to Chase Edmonds.
Finally, they need to find out where Patrick Peterson’s heart lies, and if he wants to continue playing football in Arizona.
But for all the pitfalls and roadblocks, there is a strong core of competitors who fought until the bitter end, believing in the direction of new head coach Kliff Kingsbury. The organization will have salary cap space and premium draft picks to fill most of their weaknesses. And history proves that a quarterback like Murray can do more than just cover everyone’s backside.
He can make this team a playoff contender in 2020. To wit:
Jake Plummer led the Cardinals to a postseason berth and a playoff win over Dallas in his second year on the job; Kurt Warner led the Cardinals to the Super Bowl in 2009, in his second year as starter under Ken Whisenhunt; and Carson Palmer led the Cardinals to the playoffs in his second year under Bruce Arians.
The pattern is clear: Pair an elite quarterback with the right mentor and the right system, add one year of seasoning and hard knocks, and chances are you’ll return with something special.
Murray has great skill and relentless spirit. He’s good enough to ignite stale drives and keep lopsided games close on the scoreboard. Good enough to save the general manager’s job.
Good enough to make a five-win season feel like an entrance ramp to the postseason.
Reach Bickley at email@example.com. Listen to Bickley & Marotta weekdays from 10 a.m. – 2 p.m. on Arizona Sports 98.7 FM.