It took a while for Kyler Murray, Kliff Kingsbury, and the Cardinals offense to get going, but boy did they finally get going. After an abysmal three quarters of football, Arizona recovered to post 18 unanswered points on the Lions in the fourth quarter, force overtime, and, ultimately, hold on to tie 27-27.
Murray finished 29-for-54 for 308 yards, two touchdowns, and an interception. That’s not the most efficient outing (just 5.7 yards per attempt), but given how it started (we’ll get to that in a minute), the Cardinals must feel like they’ve struck gold. And after last season’s 3-13 disaster, the Cardinals will take the tie. After all, Arizona scored just three points last year against this same Lions team, which ranked 27th in defensive DVOA.
Before we can celebrate Murray and the Cardinals, though, we have to acknowledge that none of this would have been possible without the incredible ineptitude of the Lions. With just under three minutes left in the fourth quarter and the Cardinals out of timeouts, Detroit had a 24-16 lead and faced a third-and-5. A first down would’ve essentially ensured a win, and Detroit had a perfect play that was clearly heading for a first down, if not much more. But whistles started to blow—a timeout had come in from the Detroit sideline, negating the apparent gain. Matthew Stafford threw an incompletion on the next play, and was, let’s say, upset when he came off the field.
To make things worse for the Lions, the Cardinals blocked the ensuing punt, and from there, Arizona scored a touchdown and two-point conversion to tie things up at 24 and push the game to overtime. It was a stunning comeback for the Cardinals, who trailed 24-6 at one point, and it would’ve been a stunning collapse for the Lions if, well, we didn’t expect this type of thing from the Lions.
It took a very long time to get to that point. Murray began the game an abysmal 9-for-26 as everything went wrong for the Cardinals. He was running for his life behind Arizona’s patchwork offensive line and took five sacks, with pressure leading to an ugly interception in the first quarter and a bizarre play where he ran a full 20 yards behind the line of scrimmage before hurling the football out of bounds in the third. Murray, the shortest starting quarterback in the league, had at least three passes batted at the line of scrimmage. He was also sacked by his own lineman:
Kyler Murray is gonna have a tough time behind this Cardinals offensive line, especially if his own guards are doing the tackling. pic.twitter.com/LPNAMC3PTj— Josh Frydman (@Josh_Frydman) September 8, 2019
Most alarming: Some of the worst results for the Cardinals came when they leaned into what makes Kingsbury’s scheme unique at the pro level. Per Next Gen Stats, Murray started the game 0-for-6 when the Cardinals went with an empty backfield.
Even some of Kingsbury’s decision-making was suspect. Down 17-0 with less than two minutes remaining in the first half, the Cardinals found themselves deep in Lions territory after Detroit’s Jamal Agnew muffed a punt, which Arizona recovered. The Cardinals took the ball from Detroit’s 8 to their 2-yard line, but instead of trying to punch it in with running back David Johnson or get creative with Murray, the Cardinals settled for a field goal.
But finally, the Cardinals found a groove. It began with Murray’s deep strike to Larry Fitzgerald:
The rookie and the legend, Larry Legend.— NFL (@NFL) September 8, 2019
Kyler Murray to @LarryFitzgerald for a gain of 41 yards! @K1 #RedSea #DETvsAZ
: NFL app // Yahoo Sports app
Watch on mobile: https://t.co/PoZiStO3mL pic.twitter.com/cVuA47VGoQ
Which was quickly followed up by a dime to Johnson:
This play serves as a promising indication that Kingsbury knows what to do with his versatile pass-catching running back. Previous head coach Steve Wilks repeatedly and futilely ran Johnson into the teeth of opposing defenses, but Johnson is best utilized as a mismatch maker for his rookie quarterback, as he showed on this play.
In overtime, Murray hit Fitzgerald on another deep route, this time near the sideline:
We have been big believers in the Kliff-Kyler combo here at The Ringer, and already had to eat some crow today after the Browns’ faceplant against the Titans. The Cardinals obviously have plenty of work to do, but their late-game resurgence showed that Kliff and Kyler have plenty of potential—and, perhaps most importantly, can be incredibly fun.