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Cardinals suddenly in control of NFC West title chase

Arizona Cardinals quarterback Kyler Murray, center, scores a rushing touchdown against the Buffalo Bills during the second half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Nov. 15, 2020, in Glendale, Ariz. (AP Photo/Rick Scuteri)

Budda Baker foresaw a quiet night in with a glass of tequila, a little ice and a little pineapple juice in his future. Nothing crazy.

Kyler Murray, Chase Edmonds and Christian Kirk streamed up a Call of Duty session after the game.

Their head coach, Kliff Kingsbury, reminded his players they had 12 hours — not 24 — to enjoy a 32-30 win over the Buffalo Bills that came thanks to a Hail Mary catch by DeAndre Hopkins. The Arizona Cardinals have a short week and a Thursday Night Football game against the Seattle Seahawks to prepare for.

And Arizona has an NFC West division lead to defend.

The Los Angeles Rams defeated the perennial powers in the Pacific Northwest 23-16 on Sunday, bringing the division to a 6-3 stalemate between the three teams. Because the Cardinals have a 2-0 NFC West record, with wins over Seattle and the San Francisco 49ers, they hold the division lead heading into Week 11.

“Obviously, we have a division opponent Thursday,” Hopkins said of what his catch does looking ahead. “A win like this gives a team like us a lot of motivation, man. We’re real hungry. Gives a team a boost, man, let us know that we’re always in it, especially against a great team like the Bills. Can’t take away anything from those guys.”

It was an especially needed play and victory because of what Arizona went through a week prior.

In a loss to the Miami Dolphins, the Cardinals felt like they missed opportunities after the Seahawks had gotten outplayed by Buffalo earlier in the day.

While inconsistent play on both sides of the ball hurt Arizona again this Sunday against the Bills, Arizona at least capitalized when it counted.

The Cardinals got out to a rocky start to trail 23-9 midway through the third quarter. They clawed back with three straight scores — two Kyler Murray rushing touchdowns and a 45-yard Zane Gonzalez field goal — in the final 5:44 of the third quarter thanks to a Buffalo three-and-out followed by a Patrick Peterson interception of Bills quarterback Josh Allen.

Murray once again starred, throwing for 245 yards and a touchdown on 22-of-32 passes with 11 carries for 61 yards, including his two rushing scores.

Arizona didn’t succumb following more huge losses on defense. Captain Corey Peters was carted off with a knee injury, taking the one constant from the interior, and starting inside linebacker De’Vondre Campbell left soon after with a calf issue.

A fluky interception on a pass that Cardinals receiver Larry Fitzgerald blooped into the air, plus two possessions that ended with three-and-outs (which didn’t burn clock), appeared to define blown chances for Arizona’s offense in the fourth quarter. Kingsbury said he was trying to get the ball to Hopkins in one-on-one situations, which is why Arizona passed the ball on those possessions and ignored the run game that’d account for 217 yards by the end of the evening.

Two early dropped interception attempts by Peterson and his one-on-one loss to Bills receiver Stefon Diggs on a go-ahead Buffalo touchdown with 34 seconds left made it feel like Arizona had so many missed opportunities on defense.

Instead, it was Buffalo players and coaches wondering “What-if?” after the game.

For the Cardinals, one more game against Seattle this year comes around this week with former MVP candidate Russell Wilson reeling — he’s thrown seven interceptions in the past four weeks. Meetings against the Rams in Week 13 and 17 also loom large for Arizona.

But until mid-morning Monday, it’s worth more than a mild celebration, tequila or otherwise.

“I don’t know how (it would feel) if we would’ve lost that game,” Murray said. “I feel like we had a lot of opportunities to kind of pull away before even getting to that (Hail Mary) situation. I’m glad we fought, we kept fighting.”

Added Kingsbury: “It obviously gives us some confidence. We know it’s going to be another dog fight on Thursday and we got to get healthy and healed up quickly.

“Our guys like playing when the spotlight is on us and I’m excited about Thursday night.”

Phillips Law Group

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