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Contrary to popular belief outside of the state of Arizona, the Cardinals season didn’t end this week.
Sure, the team lost a pivotal division matchup against the surging LA Rams that may very well cost them the NFC’s top seed. On top of that, Sean McVay and company suddenly find themselves a mere one game out from potentially overtaking the Cardinals for first place in the NFC West.
Oh, and DeAndre Hopkins needs surgery on a torn MCL.
“That’s a big hit. That’s a guy we all love and trust out there on the field,” said Kyler Murray when asked about the injury. “This is a long season and not all the time are you gonna make it to the end with your full army.”
Even with the sudden adversity hitting this team, the Arizona Cardinals can still win their first Super Bowl title this season. The most important factor being because they have a healthy Kyler Murray primed and ready to go for the most important stretch run of his young career. As we’ve seen so many times in the desert, this has not always been the case.
Unlike this season, Arizona Cardinal postseason contenders of years past were not the benefactor of healthy quarterback play heading into January. Both Carson Palmer and Drew Stanton suffered season ending injuries during the 2014 campaign that ultimately led to an embarrassing performance by Ryan Lindley in the wild card round. The following year, despite a banner season, the aforementioned Palmer was quickly compromised thanks to a dislocated finger injury suffered again the Packers on December 27. As a result, Palmer was forced to alter his throwing motion and was never the same.
In both instances, the Cardinals were counting on the health and well being of a quarterback that was a mere two seasons away from retirement. Compare that to Murray, who is only 24 years of age, and the former first overall pick should be gearing up for a leap in both production and results. When the Cardinals drafted Murray, Arizona brass envisioned scenarios such as this where their young signal caller was presented with an opportunity elevate others toward playoff success. Accolades aside, Murray’s reputation as a premier NFL quarterback will ultimately be decided with how he’s able to finish seasons.
While the sample size is small, Kyler Murray is 5 and 7 in December games as a pro with 19 total touchdowns to 12 interceptions.
As far as Murray’s weaponry sans DeAndre Hopkins, there is still a gluttony of talent to work with. Both A.J. Green and Christian Kirk are having strong seasons, while rookie Rondale Moore is desperate for an expanded role downfield. Murray should be able to leverage the talents of Arizona’s remaining skilled players especially when you consider the pending return of running back Chase Edmonds. Credit should be given to both GM Steve Keim and coach Kliff Kingsbury on the team’s robust group of offensive starters, with ten different Arizona Cardinals having scored touchdowns this season.
It’s also worth nothing that, unlike 2020, the Cardinals’ passing attack has not been overly reliant on Hopkins. While he does lead the team in receiving touchdowns with eight, Hopkins did not reach 100 yards receiving in any game this season. As a result, the former Houston Texan is looking at career lows across the board in what will likely go down as a lost season.
What is not lost, however, is Arizona’s ability to continue racking up both points and victories on Sundays.
“We just gotta have guys behind him step up and I’m confident in every single one of those guys,” said Murray. “We’ve got a deep receiving room, we’ve got a deep running back room. We got a ton of skill.”
Similar to the Cardinals, numerous other contenders and their quarterbacks are dealing with adversity in the form of injuries. Green Bay’s Aaron Rodgers has seen a steady rotation of offensive linemen and skilled players alike, while Murray’s NFC West peer in LA’s Matthew Stafford has lost both his starting receiver (Robert Woods) and running back (Cam Akers) for the year. In today’s pandemic NFL landscape, everyone’s got problems but the great ones are able to differentiate themselves by how they respond.
It’s not hyperbole to say that the next 4-6 weeks are likely to shape an ever-evolving narrative surrounding young Murray. Should he shoulder the weight of this Cardinal offense en route to an eventual NFC West title and lengthy post season run, he’ll be commended nationally and likely rewarded with a historic contract extension. However, should Kyler Murray slip up down the stretch, be it via turnovers or reoccurring injury, questions will remain about he and his team’s inability to capitalize on such a historic start to the season (7-0).
If not now, when for Murray and the Cardinals?
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