Kyler Murray had the worst statistical performance of his three-game NFL career on Sunday, but the Cardinals rookie quarterback didn't quite look at it that way.
Although Murray finished the game just 30-of-43 passing for 173 yards with two touchdowns and two interceptions in the 38-20 loss to the Panthers, he didn't leave thinking anything was wrong with the offense.
"You saw what we did in the first half," Murray said. "Everything was all there, it was easy. Even though they were not letting us get behind them (for deep shots), we did whatever we wanted to, pretty much."
Murray has a point. He was 28-of-37 passing for 162 yards with two touchdowns, an interception and 69 rushing yards through three quarters.
The issue in the fourth?
"We got down," Murray said.
It was clear from early on that the Panthers had no interest in giving up a ton of deep passes, which had been in regular supply through the first two weeks. Murray and the offense adjusted, scoring 20 points through three quarters by dinking and dunking with some running mixed in.
"Carolina plays a very methodical style of defense," said wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald, who finished with five catches for 36 yards and a touchdown. "They're not going to let you go over the top. They're going to keep everything in front. They want to get you behind the chains. They don't believe you can go seven, eight, nine or 10 plays in a row without making a penalty, without dropping a ball or without doing something wrong to beat yourself. They play a bend-but-don't-break defense, and when you get behind, it makes it difficult because they really make you stress."
The Cardinals had two deep shots that could have changed the complexion of the game. Wideout Christian Kirk couldn't hold on to a beautifully thrown ball down the middle of the field that would have sent the Cardinals from inside their own territory into scoring position before the half.
"I just wasn't expecting Tre (Boston) to be there," Kirk said. "I wasn't expecting the contact, but I know that that's a catch that I have to make for Kyler."
In the third quarter, wideout Trent Sherfield dropped a pass that could have been a big gain or maybe even a touchdown because he was so wide open. The Cardinals scored a field goal on the drive, but the Panthers answered with a 76-yard rushing touchdown by Christian McCaffrey.
Murray made his only big mistake of the first three quarters when he was picked by cornerback Donte Jackson on an errant throw on the ensuing possession, and the Panthers scored another touchdown to take a 35-20 lead.
"We got a field goal, threw an interception, and then you look up and we're down 15," coach Kliff Kingsbury said. "Playing catchup once again, ended up trying to throw it a bunch to try and come back and we weren't very successful."
Murray was sacked eight times, five of which came in the final quarter as the Cardinals became one-dimensional.
"When they know it's pass and it's just 1-on-1 with you and the defender, it's difficult, for sure," guard Justin Pugh said. "But we've got a job to do. We've got to protect him better. We've got to give him the confidence that he can sit back there and throw the ball."
The Cardinals may have rallied from an 18-point fourth-quarter deficit in the opener against the Lions, but it is not a spot they want to be in. The offense was much more potent when it kept Carolina off-balance with the threat of the run.
"I think we can move the ball regardless," Murray said. "It just got predictable in the end."
Images from the Week 3 contest at State Farm Stadium