Cardinals’ ascent hits speed bump in dispiriting loss to Dolphins
It was a historic weekend. There’s a new President-elect and a new NFL superstar in Arizona.
The latter is Kyler Murray, and isn’t much consolation.
Not after Sunday’s 34-31 loss to the Dolphins. Certainly not for Murray, who once again lost to Tua Tagovailoa, just like he did at the 2018 Orange Bowl. And just so you know:
The Cardinals’ quarterback is not happy. He spent his post-game press conference fuming, hemming, hawing, swallowing his words and biting his tongue. He said a lot more with his silence than he ever could with his mouth.
At the end, he was asked what was bothering him so much. There was a lengthy, interminable pause.
“Uh … we lost,” Murray said.
It was uncomfortable and awkward and it opens the door to rampant speculation. It makes you wonder what’s going on behind closed doors, and how much of it is related to his relationship with DeAndre Hopkins, who is so good that he doesn’t need to practice and can apparently get open on anyone.
Yet Hopkins was not targeted in the first half of Sunday’s game.
Or maybe it’s just because the Cardinals coughed up a pivotal game and a terrific opportunity on Sunday. The defeat prevents them from taking over first place in the NFC West. It’s a setback for Vance Joseph’s defense and Andy Isabella’s future. It’s a tough swallow for head coach Kliff Kingsbury, who dialed up the wrong plays at the end of the game and has twice failed in his quest for a four-game winning streak.
“Miami outcoached us, outplayed us and found a way to get it done at the end,” Kingsbury said.
This game could’ve lit the path to a division title, maybe even a top seed in the NFC, where no one is that special, where nothing is certain anymore.
But the Cardinals had too many plays that resulted in negative yardage. Too little execution in the fourth quarter. Too few pressures on Tagovailoa, who sparkled for the visitors. Too many “my bads,” according to linebacker Jordan Hicks.
We’ve seen this act before, where the Cardinals have underperformed against the Lions, the Panthers and a Dolphins team missing five assistant coaches and its top two running backs, forcing zero turnovers from a rookie quarterback making his second NFL start.
At its pinnacle, the game turned on a series of dubious calls from Kingsbury, who seemed to get skittish after watching Murray lower his shoulder on a third-down scramble and absorb the biggest hit of his professional career. He promptly took the ball out of Murray’s hands on a crucial 4th-and-1; had Murray throw unsuccessfully on a 3rd-and 1 into a tight window on the following possession; and then settled for an ill-fated field goal on 4th-and-1.
Game over. If you’re mad at the kicker, that’s on you for trusting one in the first place. And it was strange to see Kingsbury tighten up like that at the end, after staring down one fourth-down conversion after another during the 2020 season.
“It’s heartbreaking for sure,” wide receiver Christian Kirk said. “You never want to lose a game like that, a game that you especially feel that was in our hands, in our reach to walk home with.”
Murray certainly deserved better. He made the throws. He led all rushers. He electrified with his feet. He accepted the kind of punishment he’s been fleeing for most of his professional career.
He might not be the best quarterback in the league. But he’s the one you want on your fantasy team and on your video game. He’s currently the best show in the NFL. After gifting the Dolphins an early touchdown via turnover, he did more than he’s ever done before, creating a spectacle everywhere he went on the football field.
Murray would’ve officially uncorked his MVP candidacy on Sunday. Until his team lost.
“We came out here and laid an egg,” Murray said.
Maybe we should all take solace. In the long view, we are actually ascending with a transcendent young quarterback. We’ve enjoyed joyrides and last hurrahs of Kurt Warner and Carson Palmer. Now we get a superstar on the rise, a kid spitting fire after a heart-wrenching loss.
Problem is, it hurts too much because this team is so close right now. And it’s going to test the character of the group in the coming weeks.
“Second half starts (this) week,” Hicks said.
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