TEMPE, Ariz. (AP) — Kyler Murray was back to doing Kyler Murray things on Sunday, flinging footballs downfield, evading would-be tacklers with his uncanny scrambling ability and generally being a nightmare to contain for the Atlanta Falcons' defense.
“It felt normal," the 26-year-old quarterback said. "It felt right.”
The Arizona Cardinals couldn't agree more.
The Cardinals (2-8) have played 10 games this season, but in many ways, it felt like the season started on Sunday when Murray led the Cardinals to a game-winning drive in the final minutes of a 25-23 victory over the Falcons. It was the first game for the two-time Pro Bowl selection since Dec. 12, when he tore the ACL in his right knee in a matchup against the New England Patriots.
It appears Murray, who threw for 249 yards and one touchdown and ran for another, hasn't lost a step. His 13-yard scramble on third-and-10 during the final drive was a vintage moment and eventually helped the Cardinals snap a six-game losing streak.
“Superman, he’s superman,” running back James Conner said. “He’s making magic happen, converting big third downs when we need them. He did his thing.”
Now first-year coach Jonathan Gannon has a glimpse of what his team could look like in 2024. The Cardinals already are out of this year's playoff race but have stockpiled draft picks and salary cap space to prepare for what they hope is a quick turnaround.
The goals for the rest of this season are clear: keep Murray healthy and continue building a solid young nucleus that includes promising rookies like right tackle Paris Johnson Jr. and receiver Michael Wilson.
For the first time in a long time, the Cardinals have hope.
That's why a healthy Murray can do.
“I kind of have goosebumps right now, it’s just so cool to see,” linebacker Dennis Gardeck said. "I know that feeling, I know all the hard work, the loneliness of having to do that rehab. Everything he’s gone through and just to hit it in stride as a starting quarterback.
"I have the utmost respect for him and really happy for him.”
Now that Murray is back, the Cardinals have a quartet of solid playmakers in their quarterback, Conner, tight end Trey McBride and receiver Marquise “Hollywood” Brown. When all of them are healthy and on the field, it's an offense that can be difficult to defend.
WHAT NEEDS HELP
The Cardinals should be competitive as long as Murray is on the field, but this roster is still a little thin in multiple spots, particularly on the offensive and defensive lines.
Rookie BJ Ojulari had the best game of his young career on Sunday with eight tackles, including two sacks. The second-round draft pick out of LSU got off to a slow start because of injuries, but he is getting better as the season has progressed. At just 21, he certainly is a big part of the Cardinals' plans.
“I’m in coverage watching our defensive line work and it’s great to see him get those sacks — the relentless energy to the ball for our defensive line was special,” safety Budda Baker said.
Ojulari is part of an Arizona pass rush — which includes Gardeck, Victor Dimukeje and Zaven Collins — that's been a pleasant surprise.
The run defense. The Falcons ran for 184 yards on Sunday, giving them a chance to win in a game the Cardinals largely dominated.
The Cardinals are relatively healthy for a team that's played 10 games in 10 weeks. Left tackle D.J. Humphries is dealing with an ankle injury but should return soon. The defensive line has taken some hits with L.J. Collier and Carlos Watkins both dealing with biceps injuries.
5 — The Cardinals cycled through five different quarterbacks over the 14 games Murray missed with his knee injury. Colt McCoy, Trace McSorley, David Blough, Joshua Dobbs and Clayton Tune were a combined 1-13.
It's all about building for the Cardinals, who need to keep Murray healthy over the final seven games and establish some continuity heading into the 2024 season.
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