PHOENIX – For the second straight week, Cardinals quarterback Kyler Murray put up staggering offensive numbers as Arizona held on to win its home opener 34-33 over the Minnesota Vikings at State Farm Stadium.
Minnesota kicker Greg Joseph misfired on a 37-yard field goal attempt as time expired to allow the Cardinals to escape, but the buzz in the wake of a 2-0 Arizona start this season is more about Murray’s theatrics than Joseph’s failure.
“It’s early, but Murray … leads the league in ‘How the hell did he do that?’ moments,” Bleacher Report’s Brad Gagnon wrote.
It’s only two games, but Murray is gaining traction in the early NFL MVP race. Multiple sportsbooks now have Murray in their top three of MVP odds, including FanDuel, who has Murray as co-favorite at +500 odds alongside Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes.
Mahomes was named MVP in 2018, and Baltimore Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson won MVP in 2019. Both quarterbacks have become superstars in the league based off their ability to extend plays and routinely turn broken plays into highlights.
Murray is now drawing comparisons to the two because of his improvement and high caliber play early this season.
“It’s about time we start grouping those guys together when it comes to their athleticism, improvisational skills and ability to take over games,” Gagnon wrote.
Murray threw for 400 yards and three touchdowns and ran for another score against the Vikings, building on an impressive performance against Tennessee in Week 1. He threw for four touchdowns and ran for another against the Titans.
Through two games, Murray is second in the league in passing yards and touchdowns.
While there was some chatter around Murray as a potential NFL MVP entering the season, that talk is quickly getting more serious given the early performances of the NFL’s first overall draft pick in 2019. The statistics are impressive, but there are multiple Murray plays that stand out more than any number in a box score can describe.
Just before the half on Sunday, Murray evaded multiple Minnesota pass rushers and delivered an on-the-run strike while moving to his left that hit rookie Rondale Moore 45 yards downfield. Moore took care of the rest, turning upfield and racing to the end zone.
It is that ability to improvise that often sets Murray apart.
“When you look at some of the top offenses in the league … it’s guys that are creating the second phase of the play, cause it’s the hardest thing in football to defend,” coach Kliff Kingsbury told the media on Monday. “When he is out on the perimeter, he can be dangerous for us.”
Late in the fourth, the Cardinals were facing a fourth down near midfield, trailing 33-31. On fourth down and 5 and under pressure again, Murray fired a strike downfield off his back foot to Christian Kirk, leading to what turned into Matt Prater’s game-winning 27-yard field goal.
After his rookie season in 2019, Murray didn’t have a full offseason in 2020 due to COVID restrictions. Now with another season and a full offseason under his belt, Murray appears to be taking the next step in his development as an NFL quarterback.
“Night and day,” Murray said about his play compared to his rookie year. “I see it all out there, it’s slowed down for sure. I understand our offense, the guys understand what we’re trying to do. We’re moving as one, for the most part, we’ve just got to clear a lot of stuff up.”
Kingsbury agrees that “the game has really slowed down for him. You see him doing stuff that he did at the collegiate level. He’s very confident in his legs and moving around, and making throws, and extending plays.”
With Kingsbury and Murray now in their third season together, the communication and chemistry between quarterback and coach is also evolving and improving.
“I think we both understand each other more, what we are looking for,” Kingsbury said Monday. “I just like being on the same page with him and I think we are getting to a good place there.”
For the Cardinals to contend in a brutally tough NFC West – the division has a combined record of 7-1 through two weeks – Murray will have to continue to deliver.
Up next for Arizona is a two-game road trip beginning in Jacksonville on Sunday at 10 a.m. Arizona time. The Cardinals open NFC West play Oct. 3 when they visit the Los Angeles Rams at SoFi Stadium.