When told that he's missed the last four meetings against the 49ers, Kyler Murray looked up at the ceiling and went back in time in his mind. His realization?
"That's a lot of games."
The last time that Murray played against the Bay Area squad was in October of 2021. He quarterbacked the Cardinals to a 17-10 victory over Trey Lance and the 49ers. So yes, it's been a while.
Since he arrived in the Valley in 2019, Murray has only played against the 49ers five total times. He's thrown for over a thousand yards with six touchdowns. But regardless of how long it's been since Murray has seen their NFC West foe, he recognizes the talent on the other side of the ball.
"Obviously they are one of the best teams in the league, if not the best right now," Murray said. "An opportunity at them is a great opportunity. For me personally, just trying to go out there and trying to get better each and every week and prove to myself why I'm here. That's my mentality."
It's been 366 days since Murray tore his ACL, and speaking after practice, K1 didn't even realize the one-year anniversary passed. In his eyes, it's been a journey to getting back onto the football field, but his goal is to win football games. The "prove it" mentality is one that coach Jonathan Gannon has appreciated since he took over the job in February, but there's still some boxes unchecked.
"I want to see how he's doing coming off of a bye (week)," Gannon said. "We'll see how he keeps going, progressing, and just little by little what I want to see checked is him getting better every day."
Gannon used the term improvement to describe what he's looking for from Murray and everybody in all three phases. This weekend presents a challenge against the only team in the NFL that has clinched a spot in the playoffs.
Eleven weeks after their first game of the season, a game in which the 49ers beat the Cardinals 35-16, there's a lot to learn from the game. Offensive coordinator Drew Petzing said that there's a lot the team can take from their first outing.
"They have familiarity with us too having played the previous game, so I think it's a mix of stuff you did well, stuff maybe you had up that you couldn't get to," Petzing said. "But also seeing what did they struggle with lately and making sure that you're putting together a plan that gives those guys the best chance for success."
In the past eight meetings at State Farm Stadium, the Cardinals boast a 6-2 record. They're looking to make it seven wins this weekend, but when the opponent has one of the most dominant defenses in the league, work will certainly be cut out for them.
The 49ers lead the NFL in the turnover margin category at +11 and have one of the best defensive fronts in the league. There's also friendly respect between Murray and Nick Bosa, the defensive end drafted one selection behind the Cardinals quarterback. He leads the league with 32 quarterback hits and his 9.5 sacks are first amongst the 49ers.
Threats present themselves across the 49ers entire defense, but whether it's Bosa or linebacker Fred Warner, Murray has never shied away from a challenge.
"I love to go against great players," Murray said. "Us coming in together, I think that's pretty cool, and I think we both take pride in that. It's a special deal being in the NFL."