Larry Fitzgerald doesn't want to hear about moral victories, and he's right of course. As guard-turned-tackle Justin Pugh said, "we're paid to win football games." The Cardinals didn’t win Thursday night.
But against a defense that's pretty good, the quarterback showed more of what you're looking for, and maybe more than you would (should?) expect from a guy nine games into his career.
(A quick side note to remind all that this season, in my mind at least, was about the learning curve of Murray and also with coach Kliff Kingsbury – who certainly will have things he will learn from Thursday, but we can get to that in a moment.)
Murray still has his rookie moments. He took a 19-yard sack that would've been a sack – the Niners collapsed the blocking – but it shouldn't have lost 19 yards. It was one of those plays where he has been better with, knowing discretion is the better part of valor. He knew to throw the ball away/not run backward in similar situations later in the game. But the throw to KeeSean Johnson for the touchdown, a crazy sidearm whip as he looked like he left his feet on purpose? That was amazing. The late TD throw to Andy Isabella was impressive too. He didn't turn the ball over for a fifth straight game either, and yes, that counts even though Niners linebacker Fred Warner should've picked it off and returned it for a touchdown.
His QB rating was 130.1 against a defense that had come into the game with a 53.7 passer rating against it. Not that he cares. He was salty with the Cardinals unable to get the victory. Murray was asked, with the grind of the season, if he was looking forward to a weekend off.
"I just want to win," Murray said. "But I guess it'll be nice."
-- So about the timeout you use and the timeout you lose, with Kingsbury. The coach made it clear that they were always going to call the timeout right before the fourth-down snap/stuff at the end of the half. He wanted to be able to see what they were going to do, and hopefully force them to use a lesser play. It backfired, obviously. And had the back plunged into the end zone only to lose it on the timeout, the narrative would be different too. It'll be interesting to see if he does it again in a similar situation.
As for the challenge at the end of the game, even Larry Fitzgerald was saying he thought the play came up short of the sticks. But that's a dangerous challenge, mostly because it seems very rare when an official is willing to change a spot. "It was worth taking a shot." I'm not sure the extra timeout – because the clock was stopped anyway – would've mattered the way the Cardinals couldn't stop the Niners on third down, but you don't want to waste them.
-- That is a game Patrick Peterson is going to want to flush immediately. Even a great like Charles Woodson was noting his struggles. Unfortunately, Peterson was gone from the locker room before the media was able to get in there. The Cardinals just don't have enough defensive talent overall to have Peterson not play well. They count on him.
"I'll have to see the film," Kingbsury said. "He's still getting back into playing shape and understanding our scheme. It's the first time he's ever played in this scheme full-speed and live game reps. There was no preseason, there was no even training camp. It was limited because we had other guys taking those reps. He's a very good football player, he's a dominant player and I'll have to watch the film. I really don't know if it was the coverage call, or if it was man coverage. I'll have to watch it to get a better answer for you."
-- Kenyan Drake was fantastic. He looked quick and worked well in this offense. There were many who wondered over the years why the Dolphins didn't use him more, and I certainly understand that thought. It'll be fascinating how the Cardinals deploy him when David Johnson (and Chase Edmonds, for that matter) come back. Because after that performance, you're going to want him on the field.
-- D.J. Humphries went out briefly with an injury for a couple of plays at the end of the first TD drive, and rookie Joshua Miles had to play left tackle. The Cardinals ran a couple of plays to the right side and got the score, and Humphries came back in. But after the Cards already had to put guard Justin Pugh at right tackle, that could've turned out poorly.
-- As badly as Peterson played, I thought Budda Baker played that well.
-- Andy Lee's first punt was a terrible 24 yards. And he still averaged 50.6 yards on five punts. He was crushing it after that first one. A tremendous rally.
-- It was cool to see Andy Isabella get that TD. The kid works hard and doesn't say much, but he's been frustrated and you get it. But he made a good catch with the defender flying around near him, and that speed … well, you know about the speed. That's why they wanted him.
-- Niners defensive lineman DeForest Buckner on defending Murray: "He's like a little squirrel back there. Like a little squirrel running everywhere and everything."
Is "little squirrel" a compliment?
"Take it how you want to," Buckner said.
These two teams play again in the Bay Area in two weeks. The 49ers defensive players clearly weren't happy Murray made some things happen. The rematch will be something to watch.