Columnists, Sports

First and Goal: Kyler Murray was worth the No. 1 pick

It’s been a little more than a year since Arizona Cardinals quarterback Kyler Murray played his first NFL game, and since then, he has exceeded many people’s expectations with his explosive running game and accurate passing.

Murray played both football and baseball in college, where he earned the Heisman Trophy and was selected by MLB’s Oakland Athletics in the 2018 draft. Murray, who is 5-foot-10, was considered too short to play as a quarterback in the NFL, but the Cardinals drafted him first overall anyway, much to the chagrin of pundits and some fans.

Arizona’s gamble seems to have paid off in ways it couldn’t have imagined.

Murray’s rookie season was about as solid as it could be. He threw for 3,722 yards while also throwing 20 touchdowns to 12 interceptions. These numbers are all the more impressive when you consider the condition of Arizona’s offensive line last season. On any given play, Murray was running for his life because his line was functioning as turnstiles, not barricades.

Murray was sacked 48 times in the 2019 season and was tied for the league-worst in pocket time with an average of 2.3 seconds before the pocket collapsed and he was forced to run. All those sacks and scrambles could take a toll on most players, but Murray was saved by his lightning-quick feet and great football IQ.

Despite being the shortest quarterback to ever be drafted in the first-round, Murray’s rookie campaign was a success and he was rewarded with the Rookie of the Year award to end the season.

In spite of his achievements, the Cardinals earned a dismal 5-10-1 record. After being in quarterback hell for a few years, Arizona finally had its guy and could focus on building around Murray to create a competitive team.

In the offseason, the Cardinals took advantage of now-fired Houston Texans general manager Bill O’Brien and traded running back David Johnson for DeAndre Hopkins, one of the best wide receivers in the league. Hopkins’ arrival in Arizona and the development of some of the team’s younger players, including Murray, have put the Cardinals in the driver’s seat of the NFC West race.

Murray has helped lead the team to a 6-3 record, putting them ahead of last year’s record while giving them a chance at the playoffs for the first time in a few years.

The second-year quarterback has been sensational this season. Murray has thrown for at least one touchdown in every contest and is averaging 263.9 yards per game. He’s also only had two real duds this year, both of which came in back-to-back losses in Week 3 and Week 4.

After those two losses, Murray has been nothing short of one of the best quarterbacks in the league. In a crucial NFC West game against the Seattle Seahawks, Murray outdueled Russell Wilson in an overtime thriller.

Both quarterbacks threw for more than 350 yards and three touchdowns, but the younger quarterback was able to protect the ball and only throw one pick while Wilson threw three.

Murray’s legend is continuing to grow and it all came to a pinnacle this week against the Buffalo Bills. After Buffalo took a four-point lead with 34 seconds left, Murray marched the Cardinals down to the Bills’ 43-yard line with 11 seconds left.

Murray scrambled out of the pocket, avoided a tackle and heaved up a prayer into the desert sky.

And the prayer was answered.

Glendale, Ariz. has seen its fair share of legendary plays over the past 15 years with the Helmet Catch and Malcolm Butler’s Super Bowl-saving interception, and now it has added another to its history.

A longshot, walk-off touchdown will always be legendary for fans and players, but with the NFC West race being so close, this win had a great deal of meaning to it and could potentially help the Cardinals win the division. 

This added importance could etch this play into history, while something like the Miami Miracle is now just a pretty cool play that happened but didn’t really affect the season.

Of course this play isn’t possible without Hopkins’ athletic ability to outjump three defenders, but in a sport where the quarterback gets all the glory, we should recognize that this play ends in a sack or incompletion if Murray is unable to avoid the tackle or makes an off-balance throw.

This moment could end up being just a freak play, but we as NFL fans tend to attach extra importance to these events. Murray’s breakout career is continuing to blossom in the NFL, and this piece of magic is just a signal that this overlooked quarterback — in both height and talent — is here to stay.

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