Get Arizona's Best Sports Content In Your Inbox!

Become a smarter Arizona sports fan with the latest game recaps, analysis and exclusive content from PHNX's writers and podcasters!

Just drop your email below!

Please enable JavaScript in your browser to complete this form.

Upgrade Your Fandom

Join the Ultimate Arizona Cardinals Community!

James Conner on cardinals qb kyler murray: 'Superman, he’s superman. He’s making magic happen'

Howard Balzer Avatar
November 12, 2023

“We got magic to do just for you. We got miracle plays to play. We got parts to perform, hearts to warm. Kings and things to take by storm, as we go along our way.” — From the Broadway show Pippin

Lord knows, it wasn’t pretty for all 60 minutes. The truth is, that’s the way it is with most NFL games, win or lose.

What matters, though, after 182 minutes Sunday afternoon, is that the Cardinals, losers of six consecutive games and eight of nine this season, found a way to win a game as time expired, 25-23 over the Atlanta Falcons.

Yes, there were some rough moments. Quarterback Kyler Murray, playing his first game in 11 months, misfired on some passes, including one just out of the reach of wide receiver Hollywood Brown in the second quarter that would have been a touchdown.

But wasn’t that to be expected? Murray was playing his first game in 11 months and plenty of accomplished quarterbacks have many passes they’d like back.

It was also the third straight game in which the Cardinals failed to record a takeaway.

Then, there were the 11 penalties for 112 yards that made this team fight and grind for everything. In the third quarter, with the Falcons leading 14-12 and after five productive plays moved the ball from their own 24-yard line to the Falcons 30, there were two consecutive holding penalties on Paris Johnson Jr. and surprise left-guard starter Carter O’Donnell that resulted in first-and-30 at midfield.

Smartly, Murray connected with wide receiver Rondale Moore for a 12-yard gain that allowed kicker Matt Prater to hit a 56-yard field goal for a 15-14 lead.

There was also one delay penalty and two false starts, one by Murray and the other by center Hjalte Froholdt when the entire line moved but Froholdt didn’t snap the ball.

Offensive coordinator Drew Petzing has frequently said one of the most important aspects of Murray’s return was being comfortable with the operation of the offense. It’s important to emphasize that he had 12 practices in the last four weeks, which isn’t a large number of snaps.

Gannon said the issue was “Operational. Without taking a snap in a game and in a new system, (but) we prepared for a little bit of that. I thought Drew did an excellent job though. (There were) a couple of things that he (Murray) came off and he’s like, ‘I’m not comfortable with a couple of things.’ Drew put them away and we played to his strengths.

“I thought it was a good job by the offensive staff adjusting it and you guys do understand the mental (part) that goes on to the center and the quarterback in the operation. It’s a lot and he handled it extremely well. It’s a credit to him getting himself ready to play without taking (many) reps.”

Meanwhile, two borderline defensive penalties led to two of Atlanta’s three touchdowns in the game. The Falcons had 20 first downs and four came by penalties.

Asked overall if the flags were bothersome, Gannon said, “A little bit. It’s the two penalties on defense that led to the 14 points. We’ve got to play penalty-free. They were calling it a little bit tighter. The one at the end there was a bang-bang play, but we’ve got to continue to emphasize that. You’ve got to adjust as the game goes with how they’re calling it. It is what it is.”

One was a roughing-the-passer penalty on linebacker Dennis Gardeck that came on a third-and-8 incompletion in the first quarter.

The “bang-bang” play could have been crushing. It was a questionable 32-yard pass interference flag on cornerback Antonio Hamilton Sr. that led to a Falcons 23-22 lead with 2:33 to play.

Most important, however, was that Hamilton redeemed himself when he stopped Falcons wide receiver Drake London short of the goal line on a 2-point conversion try that would have given the Falcons a 3-point lead.

“It was a huge play because now it’s a completely different drive and I thought that was well-executed,” Gannon said. “It was a good call by (defensive coordinator) Nick (Rallis), I thought. That’s what we said that was going to be versus that group. That was the play. That was our 2-point play for the whole week and they knew what was coming and executed. It was a great play.”

Still trailing, though, the sense was that it set up a finish that was meant to be.

The Cardinals, of course, had Prater, who in addition to the 56-yard field goal, also connected from 51 in the game and could end up being the NFC Special Teams Player of the Week.

As Murray said afterward, “They scored the touchdown and in my head, I was like, ‘Of course it sets up like this for us to go back down and score.’ And at that point, you’ve got to make your mind up. There’s no quit in that group and I think we showed that today.”

Gannon knew what Prater’s range is and the offense only needed 40 yards to reach the Falcons’ 35-yard line. Murray wasn’t satisfied with that.

Gannon said, “The last two-minute (drive) there, I know (where) the line to gain there for a field goal (was) and where we’re comfortable. He said, ‘I’m going to get it all the way down there,’ and that’s what he did.”

He did it with his legs (surprise, surprise) and then with a little help from Trey McBride, who became the first Cardinals tight end to have at least 100 yards in receptions in a game since 1989.

On third-and-10 from the 42-yard line, Murray got the snap at the 35, but pressure caused him to retreat to the left to the 25. He then reversed field to the right which took him back to the 20 where he turned on the jets and finally dived forward at the Falcons 45 for 13 yards and a first down.

Asked what was going on in his head on that play, Murray said, “I had to make up my mind. I know it might sound cliche or not possible, but for me; at the end of the day, if it comes down to it being in my hands, I’ve got to make something happen. I didn’t see anything down field, and honestly I thought they had pretty good containment, but God blessed me with the ability to do things like that and that’s kind of what happened for me.

“I knew I was probably like 20 yards back or 15 yards back from the line of scrimmage. I knew it was third-and-10, so you do the math. At that point, if I’ve got to take a hit, I’ve got to take a hit, but we’ve got to win the game. That was kind of the mindset and when you’re running like that everything is kind of blurry. For me it was just do whatever is necessary to win.”

Then, on second-and-seven from the 42, Murray threw a pass that was short of McBride, who tracked it most of the way, came back to the ball to make the reception and then got to the Atlanta 9-yard line with 47 seconds remaining. The 33 yards gave him 131 for the day, catching eight of nine targets.

Asked why he was confident going long to McBride, Murray said, “It was one-on-one with him and I think it was a safety (yes, it was, Richie Grant), but he took it high and Trey’s been balling all day, so I had to get him a chance. It was an underthrown ball, but he did a great job coming back and catching it.”

McBride had a sense the ball was coming his way.

“I did, a little bit,” he said. “I told Kyler, I usually don’t tell him what to do, but I said, ‘If this guy gets me man-to-man, I’ve been killing him all game, just give me a chance.’ He did exactly that. I ran the route a little differently than I had all game. For the whole game, I was crossing that dude’s face and he was playing real outside on me and he wasn’t going to let me, so I had to take it real high.

“Kyler launched it a mile into the air and I just had to come back, and I tried to get a pass interference call at the very least but truthfully I came back, caught the ball and sealed up the deal. It was cool, it was very special to me that Kyler gave me a chance on that.”

Noting how high the pass was, McBride said he was able to locate it early.

He said, “I knew I was taking it high. I had to get separation, so the first three or four steps, I was just digging, running and then I looked up. I didn’t lose it at all and I saw it the whole way, which is why I was able to come back to it the way I did. He gave me a shot and I made a play for him, so that was very cool.”

Four plays later, Prater’s 23-yard field goal won the game, thanks to the smarts of running back James Conner, who was activated from reserve/injured Saturday after missing four games.

After the McBride play, the Falcons used their first timeout. Their plan was to let the Cardinals score a touchdown if they handed the ball off. Atlanta’s only hope was to get the ball back and hope for a miracle finish whether down five or seven points after the touchdown.

Conner spoiled those best-laid plans. He got the ball, and after gaining seven yards, purposely went down at the 2-yard line. Timeout No. 2 followed and then the final Falcons timeout after Conner lost a yard on second down. Murray then kneeled for a 2-yard loss leading to the Cardinals calling timeout with two seconds remaining.

Conner rushed for 73 yards on 16 carries, while Murray, in addition to passing for 249 yards, rushed for 33, including a 6-yard touchdown. He had two other productive runs negated by penalties. The duo combined for 355 yards.

Murray reveled in having Conner back the day he made his own season debut.

“He leads this team and it kind of goes unnoticed,” Murray said. “Or maybe it doesn’t, but I feel like he’s an anchor for this team. He’s a leader and it was great to have him back out there (with) just his presence in being able to trust him and knowing what he’s going to do and what he gives us. I think he gives everybody else a comfort level that we don’t have when he’s not out there. To have him back out there with me felt great.”

Conner returned the favor, calling Murray, “Superman, he’s superman. He’s making magic happen, converting big third downs when we need them. He did his thing.”

After the game, as the media waited for Gannon to enter the press conference room, several rounds of loud cheering could be heard from the locker room.

Said McBride, “I got in there, I was a little late because I had a couple interviews after the game, but I got in there and the music was loud and the guys were jumping around and dancing. It was fun, it felt good to be back, it felt awesome and it was good to get back on that winning track and winning column. I’m excited to keep building on that for the second half of the season.”

It will surely be fascinating to watch the final seven games unfold with Murray on the field.

Last week, Gannon famously said,We’ve got to be willing to understand that it might not look like Kyler (from the start).”

When Murray was asked on Thursday if it’s fair to have low expectations right away, he quickly replied, “No. He told me that to my face and I kind of laughed at him.”

When Gannon was asked about it Friday, he said, “Yeah, he did. He laughed right in my face. He is who he is for a reason.”

So it was that the back and forth of tempering expectations was revisited after the game when Gannon was asked if he was surprised by Murray’s play.

He said to more laughter, “Maybe that’s why he laughed at me” and added, “Honestly, I didn’t have any expectations. Like I told you guys all week, I was just happy that the guy was back because I know what he went through to get back to this point. Less than a year (back) from a major injury and to play at the level that he played today; he just broke down the team and said, ‘I’ve got to be better.’

“There’s a lot of meat on that bone from the offensive side and that’s what he’ll continue to do. Strive to get better and improve every day.”

As Gannon concluded after being asked if was concerned about throwing too much at Murray in his first game back, “No, I wasn’t. He assured me going into the game, ‘Let me ride, man.’”

And the Cardinals rode him to a much-needed victory.

Cardinals chatter

–It was an eerie coincidence that McBride’s 100-yard-plus game came 34 years to the day (Nov. 12, 1989) that Cardinals tight end Rob Awalt had 105 yards against the Dallas Cowboys.

Said McBride, “They told me that after the game, I thought that was crazy. I wasn’t even thought of. That was still 10 years before I was born. It’s very cool, it’s very awesome. Very special to me, very thankful for this organization. I’m thankful for all these guys and I hope that drought doesn’t last that long again.” McBride turns 24 on Nov. 22.

–With 51- and 56-yard field goals Sunday, Prater extended his NFL record 50-yard-plus field goals to 76 and became the franchise leader with 17. Kicker Neil Rackers had 16 in 100 games from 2003-2009, while Prater played his 40th game for the Cardinals Sunday.

He also had 13 points to raise his career point total to 1,738 and passed Norm Johnson for 16th place on the all-time scoring list. Next is Matt Bryant at 1,758.

–Rookie outside linebacker BJ Ojualri had two sacks for 17 yards in the third quarter, while outside linebacker Dennis Gardeck had one for seven in that quarter, which contributed to the Falcons totaling only 15 yards on 14 plays in those 15 minutes.

Gardeck said of Ojulari, “It’s incredible. It’s so cool to see his progression. He’s a lot quieter than most guys in our locker room and always learning, observing and taking everything in stride. Staying after with Zaven (Collins) to work on things that he feels like he needs to work on. It’s refreshing to see that from a rookie. It’s really cool, so I’m happy he’s having so much success.”

Gardeck’s sack gave him 13 in his career, passing Ronald McKinnon for the most in franchise history by a player that entered the league as an undrafted free agent.

He said, “I’m trying to get rid of those asterisks man, for the undrafted. But I’m really happy to have that undrafted record. That’s not the standard that I hold myself to, so we’re going to keep hunting.”

Gardeck, who suffered a torn ACL late in the 2020 season, was especially glad to see Murray return.

“It was incredible,” he said. “Just how special of a player he is and it’s so cool being the guy that prides himself on being one of the first in and last out and to see Kyler already in and still there when I’m leaving also going through an ACL. I kind of have goosebumps right now, it’s just so cool to see. 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.”

–Return specialist Greg Dortch entered the game with 137 punt-return yards (8.6 average) and a long of 23. He more than doubled that long with a 49-yard jaunt the set the Cardinals up at the Atlanta 21-yard line in the third quarter. Three plays later, backup quarterback Clayton Tune came in the game when a a 15-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Michael Wilson was overturned on replay.

With less than a yard to go, Tune scored on the push play and the Cardinals led 22-17 with 19 seconds remaining in the third quarter. Gannon said, “That was a huge turning point in the game I thought.”

–McBride on the entire week leading up to Sunday: “I think just the energy this week; we had James Conner back, we had Kyler back. The energy, the vibe. Everything was good. We were coming into this game with a lot of confidence, we knew this was a good game for us, Kyler’s coming back, we’re playing at home. We’re all juiced up, excited and we wanted to play good for him. He’s been out for a year. He’s been grinding, working hard to get back and we just wanted to play hard for him. He deserves it, he’s our franchise guy here, so we wanted to play hard for him and I think we did exactly that.”

Don’t hesitate to comment or ask questions on Twitter @hbalzer721 or email me: Also, become a DIEHARD and use the promo code HOWARD

Readers can also receive a free weekly newsletter on any team(s) of interest. The Cardinals day is Saturday. Just go to

Get Arizona's Best Sports Content In Your Inbox!

Become a smarter Arizona sports fan with the latest game recaps, analysis and exclusive content from PHNX's writers and podcasters!

Just drop your email below!

Please enable JavaScript in your browser to complete this form.


Share your thoughts

Join the conversation

The Comment section is only for diehard members

Open comments +

Scroll to next article

Don't like ads?
Don't like ads?
Don't like ads?