SANTA CLARA, Calif. – When Kliff Kingsbury first talked to Colt McCoy about signing with the Cardinals in the offseason, he began rattling off areas where McCoy could help – being a mentor to Kyler Murray, being an experienced mind in the quarterbacks room – when McCoy stopped him.
"Hey man," McCoy said. "I can really play."
The hope, of course, was that the Cardinals wouldn't need McCoy. But Sunday they did, with Murray out with an ankle injury and top receivers DeAndre Hopkins and A.J. Green absent. And McCoy proved to be correct, playing a practically flawless game in a 31-17 battering of the San Francisco 49ers at Levi's Stadium.
"If I didn't think I could still play, I wouldn't be playing," McCoy said. "But I also understand my role. There is not a bigger fan of Kyler Murray than me right now. I've learned a lot from him in my short time here, and he's very special.
"I'm not Kyler Murray. … Me, I'm benefiting from being on a great team"
McCoy completed 22-of-26 passes for 249 yards and a touchdown, as Kingsbury – who was also without assistant coaches Jeff Rodgers, James Saxon and Brian Natkin because of Covid – put together a fantastic game plan.
The Cardinals piled up 437 yards without their main cogs, and also lost running back Chase Edmonds, guard Justin Pugh and guard Max Garcia during the game to injuries.
"Everything was lining up to be a dogfight," running back James Conner said.
It wasn't only McCoy, of course. Conner was already having a renaissance season and he accounted for 173 total yards and three touchdowns, taking the NFL lead with 11 total scores – crucial, especially after Chase Edmonds left the game early in the first quarter with an ankle injury.
Edmonds' replacement, Eno Benjamin, scored his first NFL touchdown with a 21-yard score that included him running over ex-teammate Dre Kirkpatrick.
Wide receiver Christian Kirk caught a 50-yard pass to set up one score and threw a 33-yard pass to Antoine Wesley that nearly scored itself before Conner finished it off. The pass was a play the Cardinals have had ready to call for weeks – except it was practiced as Hopkins throwing to Green.
"We had everything in (from the playbook)," Kingsbury said. "It was the full array out there."
In a game where the Cardinals didn't not want to let the 49ers (3-5) control things with the running game, the defense allowed only 39 yards on the ground, a season-low. (And compared to the 163 yards the Cards rushed for themselves.)
Chandler Jones got a sack for the first time since Week 1, allowing him to reach 67 and set the franchise record finally. Markus Golden continued his huge season with three sacks of his own. Jordan Hicks recovered a pair of fumbles punched out by Byron Murphy and Isaiah Simmons.
"The spirits are definitely high right now," Jones said with a smile.
Said Golden, "We were going to play hard no matter what, but you can always add a little more motivation, your best player not out there so you want to play a little harder. But you've got to be real and give the credit to Colt."
The story was always going to be about McCoy, the 34-year-old signed for just this occasion.
He isn't anything like Murray. But McCoy is prepared, intelligent and calm in the pocket. It showed Sunday as the Cardinals upped their road record to 5-0.
"(Colt) reminds me of when we had Carson (Palmer) and Drew (Stanton), with so much wisdom," tackle D.J. Humphries said. "We always knew there was going to be a moment in time we'd need to lean on him."
Kingsbury said he wasn't ready to "make the prediction" that Murray and/or Hopkins will be back next week for a home game against the struggling Panthers. With all the other maladies cropping up, the injury report Wednesday figures to be lengthy.
If Murray doesn't return, however, McCoy will be ready. He always is.
"I got pretty locked in," McCoy said. "Sometimes I have to remind myself to smile. Even when we were up big, I was not ready to let up on the gas."