SportsPulse: Football is back! Yes, we know it’s just the preseason, but we still got to see the rookie QB’s debut and no one impressed quite like Daniel Jones. USA TODAY
The Kyler Murray era kicked off Thursday night and the only slip up on the Arizona Cardinals rookie quarterback’s part was when he actually slipped on third and 9 and it had to go down as a sack.
Chargers defensive end Anthony Lanier II was credited with the takedown, but only because he was the closest defender to Murray when he slipped and fell to the ground. It would end up being his last play of the game, but Murray didn’t disappoint during the Cardinals’ preseason opener at State Farm Stadium.
The coveted first overall pick in this year’s draft, Murray said coming in that he simply wanted to have a good showing, get a feel for things, and then watch the rest of the game with his teammates from the sideline.
Asked what would make him feel good: “Complete a couple balls, maybe score a touchdown or something.”
Murray didn’t get the touchdown, but he completed each of his first six pass attempts for 44 yards and a 92.9 quarterback rating and he looked completely calm and in total command running Arizona’s first-team offense.
There was some confusion, however, regarding his final pass, in which he scrambled away from the clutches of linebacker Chris Peace and hit fellow rookie KeeSean Johnson down the right sideline for a 7-yard gain.
Only it wasn’t a gain because referees ruled Johnson had stepped out of bounds and came back onto the field of play before making the catch.
In addition to an automatic loss of down, Murray was charged with an incompletion. Game operations staff checked in with NFL headquarters in New York to decipher the conclusion and reporters were told the decision came straight out of the rule book.
“I thought it was smooth,” Murray said at halftime. “I was anxious to get out there, move around and throw it a little bit. I really just tried to execute whatever coach called and I think we did that for the most part.”
Murray and the Cardinals’ offense, which was missing two starters in left guard Justin Pugh (shoulder) and receiver Tim White, who was out with an unspecified injury, started things out with the ball at their own 2-yard line following a Chargers’ turnover.
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After a 1-yard dive up the middle by David Johnson, Murray completed a pair of quick, sharp passes to Damiere Byrd and Trent Sherfield for six and eight yards, respectively.
“When we got the strip, I was like, ‘Good,’ ” Murray said. “At the same time I was like ‘Of course, I get the ball at the two.’ I wanted to go score, so my only mindset was go score. We brought it out and unfortunately didn’t finish the job.”
Later, there was a play-action fake and another 8-yard completion to Sherfield, followed by the biggest offensive output, a short screen pass to Johnson for a 14-yard pick up.
Murray then fired a quick out to Byrd for seven more yards and hit Fitzgerald for a 1-yard gain on a run-pass option.
Next came the “incompletion” to Johnson and the “sack” by Lanier. Add it all up, and Murray did enough in his one and only series to satisfy first-year head coach Kliff Kingsbury.
Kingsbury couldn’t be as pleased with his first-team defense, which was gashed for 58 yards on seven plays by a Chargers team playing without start quarterback Philip Rivers and hold-out running back Melvin Gordon.
Backup quarterback Tyrod Taylor drove L.A. down to the Arizona 2 until Cardinals linebacker Jordan Hicks jarred the ball loose from running back Austin Ekeler and recovered the fumble himself.
A handful of other Cardinals made some plays that stood out, from linebacker Dennis Gardeck to tight end Ricky Seals Jones and Sherfield, but everyone’s eyes were on QB1 — Murray.
He’s been impressing every day since rookie minicamp back in May. As soon as the veterans began to report, it was clear they had full trust and confidence in the rookie.
Fitzgerald said Murray knew the offense better than anyone and he was right.
Though he didn’t get to showcase all of his talents and command on Thursday — and Kingsbury didn’t bother to open his bag of tricks as far as play calling — there’s already a lot to like and marvel about Murray.
Running back Chase Edmonds said his favorite Murray moment came the other day during the team’s first outdoor practice.
“It was hot as hell,” Edmonds recalled. “It was a crossing route and Fitz was between left guard and left tackle. Kyler zipped it sidearm before the window was even there. I’m looking at that play and I’m not making this comparison, but I’m like, ‘That’s a Patty Mahomes throw.’ You see those highlights of Patty Mahomes bending his arm sideways and making a window where there’s not a window. It was just a beautiful throw.”
There isn’t one Murray highlight that stands out particularly above the rest for Kingsbury. For him, it’s been the entire process.
“Yeah, I think just overall I’ve been proud of the way he’s handled things,” the coach said. “To be kind of pushed in as kind of the guy, there’s no kind of grace period or like leading him in with any veteran presence at that position. He’s remained humble, he’s remained diligent in his work ethic, and really handled his business. So, I’ve been proud of that for him.”
For Murray, his debut was everything he thought it might be.
“It felt good,” he said. “Its really crazy. It feels like a dream come true to finally be here in front of the fans. A new team for me with new guys, so it felt good.”
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