Kyler Murray has maintained a low-key demeanor throughout his football career, sticking with a “never too high, never too low” philosophy that has allowed him to thrive from high school through to the NFL.
But the Arizona Cardinals quarterback admits this week is a little different.
“As a competitor it’s as big as it gets,” said Murray. “It’s the playoffs. It’s what you dream of, it’s what you live for, it’s what you play for, the opportunity to go and win a Super Bowl.
“There is nothing to do without.”
The Cardinals selected Murray with Oklahoma’s No.1 pick in 2019 in hopes it would provide those pressurized playoff weeks. The 24-year-old delivered the regular season, proving quick study by completing three stellar regular seasons.
Now, for the first time in his career, the NFL playoffs await him. The Cardinals (11-6) will visit the Los Angeles Rams (12-5) on Monday night in the wild card round.
“I eat, breathe and sleep football,” Murray said. “To be in this situation, I’m just excited about it. There is no fear, there are no nerves to play at a high level, you just have to go out there and run the games and be yourself. I treasure this moment and am excited for it.
The timing is important, not only for Murray, but also for third-year coach Kliff Kingsbury. The two were brought to Arizona as part of a comprehensive deal in 2019. Kingsbury’s specialty is developing quarterbacks and the relationship between the two has been central to the team’s rise to a record. from 5-10-1 in 2019 to 8-8 in 2020, to this year’s 11-game winning campaign.
Kingsbury has a lot to worry about when preparing for the Rams. There’s the strong arm of Matthew Stafford and the road racing of Cooper Kupp. There is a defense that includes stars like Jalen Ramsey and Aaron Donald.
But Murray’s ability to perform under pressure is not one of them.
“I think that’s what he’s been waiting for three years,” Kingsbury said. “He’s a guy who wants to play for something and knows he’s playing for something. This is his first shot in the playoffs, and I expect him to play probably the best game of his career. I know he will give everything he has.
The Cardinals’ biggest concern is rocking a late-season funk that dulled the team’s momentum heading into the playoffs. Arizona started the year 7-0, but faded away with a 4-6 record in the last 10 games, including 1-4 in the last five.
Murray’s season mirrored the team’s record. He was awesome in September and October – emerging as one of the league’s MVP contenders – before production slumped slowly. A three-game absence with an ankle injury didn’t help. Neither has lost three-time All-Pro receiver DeAndre Hopkins to a knee injury.
Now the Cardinals are trying to find a way to get that early-season mojo back. Arizona played their best game of the season in a Week 4 win over the Rams, dominating from start to finish in the 37-20 win.
But the Rams rebounded in Week 14 to beat the Cardinals 30-23 in Monday Night Football.
Round 3 is fast approaching.
“I think everyone continues to evolve and find ways to improve,” Kingsbury said. “Whether it’s offensive, defensive or special teams, you’re always looking for new things in the league – different people-led games, different people-led programs. I think there is always a way to be innovative when you get to this point.
But innovation does not go further. At some point on Monday Murray will likely have to perform better and just make a play when it matters most.
Judging by the rest of his career, he will be ready.
“You have to play well in these games or you won’t be considered ‘that guy’,” Murray said. “I understand the responsibility I have towards this team to play well.”
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