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Kyler Murray is ready to level up

Jay Busbee
·4-min read

When the quarterback’s in the pocket and he smiles, you know something’s about to go down.

Sunday Night Football. Seahawks already up 10 late in the first quarter. Kyler Murray, lined up on the Seattle 35, takes the snap, looks downfield, sees DeAndre Hopkins in single coverage … and Murray grins. He knows what’s about to happen.

Sure enough, Murray drops a pass right into Hopkins’ arms as perfectly as a cherry nestled atop a sundae, the first touchdown in what will turn out to be an unlikely 37-34 Arizona victory over a previously undefeated and seemingly bulletproof Seattle squad.

“I don't think I've ever been part of a game like that,” Murray said afterward. “That was a crazy game.”

For a No. 1 pick and Heisman winner, Murray gets overlooked an awful lot — and no, that’s not a height joke, shame on you for thinking so. Murray entered the league right in the midst of a new quarterback renaissance, when Patrick Mahomes and Lamar Jackson are soaking up all the media oxygen in the room and Aaron Rodgers and Tom Brady are still justifying their time in the spotlight, it’s tough for an unproven young QB to catch a second look.

Kyler Murray is stepping up. (Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
Kyler Murray is stepping up. (Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

You remember Murray’s backstory entering the league; it was a hot taker’s dream. His baseball-or-football debate — plus the question of whether a guy generously listed at 5-foot-10 could even survive at quarterback — kept sports talk radio and debate-show shoutfests humming in the blissfully naive days before the 2019 draft.

Combine Murray’s selection with Arizona’s hiring of a Big 12 coach with zero NFL experience and a losing record in college, and you could be forgiven for thinking the Cardinals were going all in with a “screw it, let’s see what happens” approach. If this were, say, the Jets or Cowboys, the NFL would’ve busted a collective gut laughing at the absurdity of the idea. But since it’s way out there in Arizona, it’s whatever, dudes, knock yourselves out.

Nobody’s overlooking the Cardinals anymore. Turns out that when you combine a quarterback who possesses full-field awareness with a coach capable of maximizing those gifts, good things start to happen. Throw in an all-world receiver that the Houston Texans generously gift-wrapped, and you’ve got a team capable of going toe-to-toe with the conference’s best, as Sunday night proved.

“These are the games you honestly dream about,” Murray said. “To be part of these, you've got to win and keep winning.”

So far, Arizona has done just that. The Cardinals are 5-2, undefeated in their division. They’ve outscored their opponents by 57 points, second-best in the conference behind Tampa Bay’s 80.

Murray himself is coming off two of the best games of his pro career, a thorough Monday night walloping of Dallas and last night’s gem, a three-touchdown, one-interception performance where he threw for 360 yards and rushed for another 67 (and a fourth touchdown).

It’s part of an upward trajectory that ought to kill once and for all the idea that there’s some sort of prototypical QB mold. Murray is both elusive and preternaturally aware. He owns the second-most-unlikely completion of the season, a 45-yard pass against the Jets in Week 5 that had just a 10.6 percent chance of success, per NFL Next Gen Stats.

In traditional stats, Murray sits right in the middle of the pack. But in that immeasurable “intangibles” category, he’s coming on strong. Consider this: Via NFL Research, Murray is only the second quarterback ever to throw three touchdowns and rally from a 10-point fourth-quarter deficit to beat Russell Wilson and the Seahawks. (The other guy? Tom Brady, in a Super Bowl played in the same stadium.)

Not only that, the Cardinals are verging on that wicked got-their-number distinction against the Seahawks. They’ve beaten Seattle in their last two meetings, with a third scheduled for Week 11. The rest of the near-term schedule includes prove-it games (Buffalo), better-win-it ones (Miami, New England, Philadelphia, Giants), and the rest of the rugged NFC West. It’s a tricky schedule, but a navigable one, and at the end of it, Arizona ought to be on the high side of the playoff cut line.

Although they’ve got the same win total, Arizona has a long way to go to get the same kind of respect as Seattle. But for the first time in years, it’s clear they’re on the right path. And that’s enough to give Murray plenty to smile about.

_____

Jay Busbee is a writer for Yahoo Sports. Follow him on Twitter at @jaybusbee or contact him with tips and story ideas at jay.busbee@yahoo.com.

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