DAN BICKLEY

Cardinals catch a break, protect home turf behind Kyler Murray

Sep 19, 2021, 6:22 PM | Updated: Sep 20, 2021, 7:37 am
Arizona Cardinals quarterback Kyler Murray (1) throws against the Minnesota Vikings during the seco...

Arizona Cardinals quarterback Kyler Murray (1) throws against the Minnesota Vikings during the second half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Sept. 19, 2021, in Glendale, Ariz. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

(AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

In the NFL, there is a fine line between victory and vilification. The Cardinals ended up on the right side of the ledger on Sunday.

They won a game they should’ve lost. They were gifted a 34-33 victory when the Vikings botched a mid-range field goal at the end of the game. Players stormed the field in a mixture of bliss and disbelief, celebrating how they will continue to be celebrated in the coming days.

On their road to redemption, this was a pivotal turn of events.

“Week 1, we didn’t face any adversity,” head coach Kliff Kingsbury said. “We faced a bunch today and still found a way to get it done.”

When the dust settled, the Cardinals were 2-0, avoiding the public flogging that would’ve accompanied a bad defeat. They received a breakout performance from rookie Rondale Moore, who is everything we once hoped for with Andy Isabella. The offense actually highlighted a tight end, with Maxx Williams posting career bests in catches (seven) and yards (94). And while the defense was exposed as less than dominant, at least they were better in the second half.

The biggest takeaway is obvious:

Kyler Murray is the best show in football. Maybe next time Valley infidels won’t sell their tickets.

The Cardinals quarterback threw for 400 yards. He completed 81% of his passes, accounting for four touchdowns, two of which occurred on broken plays. He padded his lengthy highlight reel with stuff you won’t see anywhere else.

“Night and day,” Murray said when asked about his comfort level compared to his first two seasons. “I see it all out there.”

Murray is a defensive coordinator’s worst nightmare. When he starts scrambling, big plays seem to fall from the sky. He is most dangerous when feeling endangered.

One of his great escapes led to a wide open touchdown pass to Moore. An all-out blitz led to another back-footed rainbow completion to Christian Kirk. And after another red zone penalty from A.J. Green threatened to demoralize the Cardinals, Murray simply tucked the ball on the next play and beat everyone to the end zone.

Once there, he pulled off the touchdown celebration of the season, sitting down in the Baby Yoda meditation pose.

After the game, Murray said he’s never watched Star Wars (“too long”), and that he had to research Baby Yoda on his phone after the nickname was dropped on him by Chandler Jones. But the playful gesture speaks volumes about Murray’s comfort level and state of mind in 2021.

“I think the game has really slowed down for him,” Kingsbury said.

Opponents are learning fast that blitzing Murray is bad strategy. They are learning that generating any kind of pass rush often comes with unforeseen consequences. Murray had two interceptions on Sunday, but pleaded innocent on the second, claiming it would’ve been an easy touchdown pass had he not been illegally struck in the head.

Either way, when Murray develops the patience to pick teams apart from the pocket without forcing the issue, this offense will be unstoppable, especially with all the weapons at his disposal.

“I feel great as far as command of what’s going on and all that kind of stuff,” Murray said.

Sunday’s outcome might’ve been the break the Cardinals needed to make this season special. It marked the first regular season home game without Larry Fitzgerald since 2003, and the game fluctuated wildly between pleasure and pain. The abundance of leather-lung Vikings fans at State Farm Stadium only worsened the experience for everyone.

That’s why the missed kick felt like a reprieve, a stay of execution, the kind of break that can save a season. And when it was over, the Cardinals were positively delirious. Some collapsed on the field. DeAndre Hopkins picked up a pylon and threw it in the air.

And in the madness, a Vikings replica jersey sailed down from the upper deck, possibly from the hands of a disgusted Minnesotan who went home shirtless.

That’s how it should always be for all opposing fans who dare enter State Farm Stadium. And in the coming months, Murray might be good enough to conquer all, including the petty irritations that come with a region full of transplants.

Reach Bickley at dbickley@arizonasports.com. Listen to Bickley & Marotta weekdays from 6 a.m. – 10 a.m. on 98.7 FM Arizona’s Sports Station.

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