The play wasn't a success for Kyler Murray, but it turned out to be a harbinger.
The Cardinals quarterback faced a third-and-14 at his own 44, and frantically clapped his hands in shotgun formation before getting the snap and throwing a perfect deep ball to an open Rondale Moore down the field.
Moore couldn't haul in the pass.
At that point, Murray and the offense had had a forgettable day. The next time they had it, Murray engineered a 99-yard touchdown drive – capped by a scoring pass to tight end Trey McBride – that featured six completions in eight attempts (and one of the incompletions was a questionable overturn of a McBride TD catch that Murray made good on the next play.)
"His feet are so good and so fast I think sometimes he gets sped up a little bit and he's aware of that," coach Jonathan Gannon said. "Maybe when he's ready to hitch and throw the routes aren't developed or his eyes aren't getting to the right progression, but he's doing a good job with that.
"He actually told me that when he came off, I think after the third or fourth series, he goes, 'I'm settled in.' He felt really good about what we were doing."
The Cardinals sit at their late-season bye with four games left, exactly halfway through the Kyler Murray testing ground of eight games since returning from his ACL injury. Murray's performances have been mixed, to be expected for a guy who spent 10 months unable to even practice football and 11 months playing in an NFL game.
Murray had an emotional and excellent return against the Falcons. He struggled in a winnable game at Houston. He played poorly in a one-sided home loss to the Rams, although the entire roster joined him. Then he played well against the Steelers, in an effort that was better than what his statistics might've shown.
"Every time I touch the field I expect to win," Murray said. "Obviously still frustrated with the two losses, and me playing and dealing with those losses, but I was talking to Is (QB coach Israel Woolfork) and this is technically preseason for me, four weeks into the season. I told him it was starting to slow down for me and getting more comfortable, and I just feel better out there right now. Hopefully we can keep getting better and keep continuing to grow."
According to the advance passing stats of profootballreference.com, Murray has the lowest on-target percentage for his passes (69.5) since he was a rookie (73.5). That would track, seeing that Murray is a rookie in the current offensive system.
He was under center more against Pittsburgh than he had been in his first three games combined, but that may have been with the ability to lean on the run with a big lead. (It was also interesting to note that Murray only threw one pass when he was under center.)
But the misses Sunday came as Murray acknowledged he was perhaps a little anxious as the game began. This is all something he is going through for the first time – a major injury, a major comeback, doing it all on a team long out of the playoff picture.
Gannon has said the final four games of the season is about trying to win a game each week – not about future evaluations. But in Murray's case, in whatever way they might want to evaluate their quarterback (even if it is only about the priority list of what he will work on in the offseason), these four games are important.
The lineup alone is of note: home against the powerful 49ers, road games in potential weather at Chicago and at Philadelphia, a home finale against the Seahawks. The Eagles game will come with drama given Gannon's return to the team for whom he just coached. The Niners are trying to become the NFC's No. 1 seed. The Seahawks could be playing for a postseason spot.
These are the games in which Murray will be tested, the prism through which his return will be viewed. He has four more chances to work out his own kinks in the Drew Petzing offense before he'd have to wait for next season.
At the halfway point of Kyler's comeback, he and the team have already learned a lot. Now Murray has one semester to go.