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In Kyler Murray-Tua Tagovailoa Battle, Cardinals Come Up Short

Dolphins hold on to 34-31 win despite Murray's 389 total yards and 4 touchdowns

Quarterback Kyler Murray scores a touchdown during the Cardinals' 34-31 loss to Miami Sunday.
Quarterback Kyler Murray scores a touchdown during the Cardinals' 34-31 loss to Miami Sunday.

The Kyler Murray-Tua Tagovailoa matchup didn't disappoint.

Well, as long as you weren't the Cardinals, who came out of Sunday's frustrating 34-31 loss to the Miami Dolphins at State Farm Stadium clearly upset and emphatic in the feeling it was given away.

"We came out here and laid an egg," said Murray, whose postgame press conference was filled with more simmering pauses than words.

Murray's perspective aside, it wasn't a bad performance, not like the 2019 post-bye debacle against the Rams. But there were plenty of spots that will eat at the Cardinals, players and coaches alike, as they try to find a way into the postseason knowing a loss like this could hurt.

"It was heartbreaking for sure," wide receiver Christian Kirk said. "You never want to lose a game like that. A game you especially feel was in our hands and in our reach."

Tagovailoa was good in only his second NFL start, completing 20 of 28 passes for 248 yards and two touchdowns, not turning the ball over, and getting the Dolphins (5-3) into position for what turned out to be the game-winning field goal with 3:30 left in the game.

Murray, though, was spectacular. He completed 21-of-26 passes for 283 yards and three touchdowns. He had his first 100-yard rushing game in the NFL, gaining 106 yards and a touchdown on only 11 carries. And he found Kirk on a 35-yard bomb to start what looked like would be the game-winning drive.

But the Cardinals (5-3), who found themselves in multiple short-yardage situations in the fourth quarter to mixed results, couldn't convert a third-and-1 at the Dolphins 31 when Murray's pass rolling out right to an open Kirk was down at Kirk's ankles for an incompletion.

"That's a play we had installed this week and it's a tough throw, on the run, near the sideline like that, it's just a condensed space," Kirk said. "Another one of those plays we unfortunately didn't convert."

With 1:58 left, coach Kliff Kingsbury sent Zane Gonzalez out to tie the game with a 49-yard field goal try. Gonzalez left it just short.

"I know he didn't get much of it," Kingsbury said. "It was like a mishit, but I didn't get final word on that."

So even with the Cardinals outgaining the Dolphins, 442 yards to 312, rushing for nearly double the yards (178-91), and scoring 31 points on the NFL's top scoring defense (18.6 points a game coming in), they were left with a painful loss – especially after the Seahawks (6-2) lost in Buffalo earlier in the day, meaning a Cardinals' win would've put the Cardinals in first place.

"I wasn't really worried about first place in the division," Murray said. "I don't think anybody should be worried about that."

­The Cardinals seemed like they might take control after getting to a 31-24 lead after Murray's 12-yard TD run. But Tagovailoa engineered a drive buoyed by a missed sack by linebacker De'Vondre Campbell and a questionable leading-with-the-helmet penalty by safety Budda Baker.

The Cards still had the chance to take the lead, but after one Murray run gained four on a fourth-and-1 play, a second fourth-and-1 failed when running back Chase Edmonds was stoned for no gain – and the Dolphins turned around to go on their final field-goal drive.

"I had some bad calls late on the fourth-and-1 and third-and-1," Kingsbury said.

Kirk, who caught a 56-yard touchdown among his five receptions for 123 yards, said the Cardinals knew they were going to have to score a lot of points. They knew it coming in, with starting defenders Devon Kennard, Byron Murphy and Dre Kirkpatrick all sitting out and another starter, Jordan Phillips, limited to 12 snaps with a hamstring injury.

And they knew it when Murray was stripped for a fumble early in the game, with Miami linebacker Shaq Lawson scooping it up and running it in for the first score of the game.

The Cardinals never could get the lead that might have made Tagovailoa uncomfortable, although he might not have anyway. Other than one intentional grounding penalty that looked like a rookie mistake, Tagovailoa didn't look like a rookie.­­­­­­­

"(Tua) stayed alive when he had to and he made plays when he had to," linebacker Jordan Hicks said.

It was not how Kingsbury wanted the second bite at the post-bye apple to go. The numbers were better from last season. The ultimate result wasn't, and so Kingsbury couldn't see the improvement.

"No. No," Kingsbury said. "We wanted to win the game and we didn't play good enough. That's the bottom line."

The Cardinals, who now must play the 7-2 Bills – at home – next week, now must find a way to regroup quickly and not let the season slide away.

"Guys have every right to be as mad as they are," Kirk said. "We all know how talented and how good we can be and it's tough and it's frustrating when we don't do it."

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