The feature film won’t debut until the regular season opener on Sept. 8 against the Lions, but there’s nothing wrong with a good trailer to build the intrigue.
Rookie quarterback Kyler Murray put his elite skillset on display in the Cardinals’ preseason opener against the Chargers on Thursday night, completing 6-of-7 passes for 44 yards in a 17-13 win.
The No. 1 overall pick in the draft showed off his mobility and arm talent in limited action, looking at ease in his first career NFL game.
“It’s natural as a rookie to have expectations, how is it going to be, over-think it,” Murray said. “For me, I was just going out there being myself, like always. Trust in my abilities, trust in what Coach calls, and just trying to go out there and execute what he calls. It was fun.”
Opposing defenses will get more exotic when the regular season begins, and that will be an important hurdle for Murray to clear, but he showed the physical tools the Cardinals’ brass fell in love with during the pre-draft process.
It’s uncommon for a dual-threat quarterback to throw with pinpoint accuracy, and Murray did so routinely against the Chargers.
“To have that dynamic running ability, and you pair it with very accurate throwing ability, it’s rare,” Kingsbury said. “He did a nice job tonight of putting it on the money.”
Murray’s lone series began at the Arizona 2 following a fumble recovery by linebacker Jordan Hicks. It didn’t end in points, though that was no fault of his own.
The Cardinals were called for a pair of penalties on the drive, including an illegal touch by wideout KeeSean Johnson, who went out of bounds before catching Murray’s seventh throw of the night.
It went down as Murray’s lone incompletion and resulted in a loss of down. Murray was sacked on the next play, which forced a punt. Kingsbury said there was a miscommunication that led to quick pressure, causing Murray to dive to the ground before getting hit.
He spent the rest of the game on the sidelines.
“I wanted to score,” Murray said. “I wanted to go back in. … I was itching for more.”
The Cardinals’ first-team defense played one series. It allowed the Chargers to easily march down the field until Hicks saved the day by stripping running back Austin Ekeler and recovering the fumble himself.
“They hit some runs on us we’d obviously like to have back, but I’ll have to evaluate the film and see what went wrong on those plays,” Kingsbury said.
The Chargers scored first on a 4-yard touchdown run by Justin Jackson early in the second quarter. The Cardinals knotted the game on a 22-yard touchdown pass from backup quarterback Brett Hundley to wide receiver Trent Sherfield right before halftime.
Zane Gonzalez gave the Cardinals a 10-7 lead by nailing a 55-yard field goal with 6:16 remaining in the third quarter and running back Wes Hills pushed it to 10 with a 7-yard touchdown run early in the fourth. The Chargers cut the deficit to one possession on a 32-yard touchdown run by quarterback Easton Stick but the Cardinals held on for Kingsbury’s first NFL coaching victory.
“Winning always means something,” Kingsbury said. “If you’re a competitor, you’d rather win than lose.”
Sherfield had four catches for 44 yards and the score along with a special teams tackle, bolstering his case to make the team.
Outside linebacker Pete Robertson had two tackles and a sack. He returned a fumble 43 yards for a touchdown in the third quarter but the play was overturned on review. Rookie safety Tyler Sigler had a fourth-quarter interception.
While there were other bright spots, the postgame focus was on Murray. The true measure will come one month from now, but the early returns are promising.
“It wasn’t too fast,” Murray said. “I know it’s not the regular season yet, but I felt pretty relaxed, pretty comfortable.”
Images from Thursday night's exhibition contest at State Farm Stadium