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Kliff Kingsbury Felt 'Funky' In Return, But Cardinals Overwhelm Texans To Stay Undefeated

Kyler Murray throws three touchdown passes in 31-5 rout

Former Texan and current Cardinal defensive lineman J.J. Watt pleads his case to the public after a near-sack Sunday in the Cardinals' win over Houston.
Former Texan and current Cardinal defensive lineman J.J. Watt pleads his case to the public after a near-sack Sunday in the Cardinals' win over Houston.

The information had already spread around the Cardinals Saturday night, that coach Kliff Kingsbury had one negative Covid test under his belt and a likely second one Sunday morning would get him back on the field.

So it didn't surprise quarterback Kyler Murray to wake to the news Kingsbury would be on the sideline – "I didn't have a party or anything like that," Murray said with a smile – and that the Cardinals would be back to normal.

Normal-ish, anyway.

The result looked right Sunday, as the Cardinals routed the Houston Texans, 31-5, at State Farm Stadium. Murray threw three touchdown passes, so that part played out correctly, and the defense dominated – again – in shutting out the Texans (1-6) in the second half and allowing only 160 yards total. That tracked.

So did the Cardinals running their record to 7-0 on the season, equaling the 1974 team's best start in franchise history and allowing for a chance to break it Thursday night at home against the 6-1 Packers.

Kingsbury, however, said he didn't feel as "connected" as he usually, would have, not without the ability to call the plays he did Sunday multiple times in practice the week leading into the game.

"It just felt funky," Kingsbury said. "Usually, I've called those plays over and over throughout the week. Kyler (Murray) and I have had that dialogue. That was the first time we'd even gone over them was out there.

"It just didn't feel like the same type of rhythm, same type of comfort level. I just felt more on edge than I normally do after six days of preparation."

Yet it didn't matter. Sure, the Cardinals were trailing, 5-0, one play into the second quarter. A Murray run was stuffed in the end zone, leaving Murray bruised (he said he was OK) and the Texans with a safety. It was the first time the Cards had trailed in a game since the Rams took a 10-7 lead in Week Four.

But by the end of the game, Murray had thrown touchdown passes to DeAndre Hopkins, Christian Kirk and new tight end Zach Ertz – the latter a 47-yard catch-and-run that was the longest score of Ertz's career and made him the first player in NFL history to catch touchdowns for two different teams in back-to-back weeks. (Ertz scored a TD a week ago Thursday in his final game with the Eagles in Week Six.)

A.J. Green set up a touchdown on a perfect 41-yard throw from Murray, and the running back tandem of James Conner and Chase Edmonds combined for another 145 yards rushing.

"It felt like everything was back to normal," said Hopkins, who had seven catches for 53 yards. "We wanted to come out and be dominant."

Part of that was because Hopkins and defensive lineman J.J. Watt were playing against their former team for the first time. Linebacker Markus Golden said Watt gathered the team on Wednesday last week, telling the players how much this game meant to him.

Hopkins insisted he wasn't thinking in those terms.

"This team, we've got bigger goals," he said. "I didn't want to make it a thing."

It wasn't for the defense, anyway. Watt didn't get a sack – although he came within an eyelash of bringing down rookie Davis Mills before Mills somehow threw it away – but Golden had two sacks, including a forced fumble that led to a scoring drive.

The unit was perfect defending fourth downs – two more pelts on the wall – and allowed season-lows in points, total yards, net rushing yards, net passing yards and first downs. The Texans never got inside the Arizona 35-yard line.

"I think everybody is on the same page, which is Green Bay," linebacker Isaiah Simmons said. "The win was nice, but it's a game we felt we should've won, and we did. Now it's on to the next.

"There's not really time to enjoy it. We play in, like, 96 hours. But I never take a win for granted, because it's hard to win."

The Cardinals have been so good this season, it hasn't just been the wins now but how they happen. Murray, as he is prone to do, lamented what they needed to improve upon. The first quarter, with penalties and pass protection and some inconsistent snaps from backup center Max Garcia, wasn't pretty.

In the end, however, they were only three yards short of posting their fifth game of the season with 30 points and 400 yards. They were able to drop yet another weapon into the offense with Ertz – who made excellent catches on two of his three grabs and couldn't help but feel excited of what is to come.

"I've never seen so much green grass in the middle of the field," Ertz said.

Ertz didn't get to meet Kingsbury in person until Sunday morning, having arrived in trade physically after Kingsbury was banished from the facility because of Covid. Finally, the Cardinals will have everyone together for whatever practice they are able to have, given the short week and the Packers game looming.

Kingsbury should feel all the way back by then. That portends well for the Cardinals.

"Our job is to execute what is called," Murray said. "I'm sure he felt a little bit off, but we still put up 31."