If all the Cardinals got from their offseason trade for DeAndre Hopkins was this one catch, it would be well worth it:
A year ago, my former Ringer colleague Robert Mays tried to determine who the best receiver in the NFL was. There’s a lot to consider with that question, including route-running, speed, reliability, athleticism, physicality, moxie, and just plain old trust. It was a razor-close decision, but Mays chose Hopkins, in part because “when a ball is thrown in the NFL, there’s no one in the league I trust more to come down with it than DeAndre Hopkins.” Arizona saw exactly that on this play. Hopkins isn’t the tallest, fastest, or most physical receiver in football, but sandwiched between three Bills defenders, he snagged the ball—and victory—out of the air. The Cardinals beat Buffalo, 32-30. That play, along with a Seahawks’ loss earlier in the day, put the 6-3 Cardinals on top of the NFC West.
Of course, the other half of this play is Kyler Murray, and his ability to scramble and create big plays out of thin air. Murray avoided a tackle before launching his rainbow downfield. In some ways, it is the perfect embodiment of Murray’s style: He gets himself in trouble by bailing on a clean pocket too early, but his slipperiness and agility allow him to deftly set up the big gain that wouldn’t have been possible otherwise.
That’s been the pattern for Murray all season. The Cardinals passer has been only slightly above average through the air. He came into Week 10 ranked just 13th in adjusted net yards per attempt and 16th in Pro Football Focus’s passing grades. But he’s been the best scrambler in the league. Prior to the Bills game, he had 543 rushing yards, more than any quarterback and behind just seven running backs. He also had eight touchdowns on the ground, tied for third league-wide. Against the Bills, he added another 61 rushing yards and two rushing scores, despite a ho-hum performance through the air. Murray’s final passing line was 22-of-32 for 245 yards, a touchdown, and a pick that wasn’t his fault.
The lead changed four times in this back-and-forth affair. Murray’s 15-yard touchdown run in the closing seconds of the third quarter was the jolt of energy the Cardinals needed, putting the team on top for the first time since early in the first quarter:
This was Murray’s fifth-straight game with a rushing score, the longest streak for any quarterback in the Super Bowl era. For a team with Hopkins, Larry Fitzgerald, Christian Kirk, and a coach who wants to run an Air Raid–styled scheme, the passing numbers for Murray and the Cardinals’ offense have never hit the highs many anticipated. But Murray has been so effective with his legs that that hasn’t mattered. That he can both run for yards and buy himself enough time before launching the football downfield makes the Cardinals one of the most exciting teams in football—and one that must be incredibly frustrating for opposing defenses to scheme against. If Murray and Hopkins can turn their Hail Mary connection into a consistent partnership rather than the hit-or-miss affair it’s been, this offense could take a real leap, and the Cardinals could become true contenders.
On the other side of the field, the Bills have their own up-and-down quarterback who nearly pulled off a miraculous comeback in this game. Just a few plays before Murray’s Hail Mary, Josh Allen delivered a perfect, 21-yard strike to Stefon Diggs to take the lead with under a minute remaining:
What a perfect throw by Josh Allen to Stefon Diggs for the go-ahead TD. pic.twitter.com/ERmEAetgUr— NFL Update (@MySportsUpdate) November 16, 2020
This play, Allen’s second passing touchdown of the game, made up for some earlier mistakes by the third-year quarterback. Allen finished with two interceptions, both of which were ugly, late throws that were entirely his fault. Luckily for the Bills, Allen can also do damage with his legs. A year after Allen led the league in rushing touchdowns among QBs, the team drew up this play for him in the first quarter:
Despite the loss, the Bills, at 7-3, have a hold on first place in the AFC East and could also make noise this postseason. But like the Cardinals, they need moments of brilliance from their quarterback to outshine the mistakes. Allen’s go-ahead drive in the fourth quarter was preceded by five consecutive failed drives, two of which ended in picks and three of which ended in punts. On Sunday, the win belonged to Murray, Hopkins, and the Cardinals. But both teams have plenty of good and bad to think about.