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The End But A Beginning, And Seahawks Aftermath

The end of the season always is a strange time. Taking a breath after everything is important – even Jonathan Gannon hinted at needing a break – but the way everything just … stops.

There will be plenty to discuss in the coming weeks. What to do in free agency. What to do in the draft. What positions need upgrading, and what positions can be upgraded – you can't fix everything. Not all at once (and even the best teams have flaws somewhere, it's the fluidity of the business.)

But having Gannon emphasize Kyler Murray is his guy was a good first step. The way the Bears still can't seem to find consistency with Justin Fields, and how they have the No. 1 pick, there is certainly a path in which the Bears go QB, and the Commanders and Patriots also seem to be in a similar position in a draft that seems like it has three QB prospects that could go that high.

Which would open the world for the Cardinals at No. 4.

Mostly though, the way Gannon has put together his team and his mindset seems to be working. It's easy to say that now. Sooner rather than later, the production has to show in the win column. But this season was a good step. I've been around a lot of versions of this franchise for 24 years; you couldn't always say that. Gannon wasn't one to show much about his feelings for the future. The man is the day-to-day cliché. But he said he likes what is on the horizon. I gotta say, so do I.

-- Picking four and not five. That'll be fun to consider what might've happened when we get to April. (And Cardinals fans need the Texans to lose a home game to the Browns in the Wild Card playoff game with that other pick.)

-- Tight end Trey McBride had the huge TD catch, and his three catches for 34 yards got him over 80 catches (81, extending his own franchise record) and 800 yards (only the second tight end in franchise history, after Jackie Smith, to reach that mark.)

-- About that fantastic fourth-down TD pass from Kyler to McBride from eight yards, fooling the Seahawks into thinking it would be a field goal. To reset: kicker Matt Prater and holder Blake Gillikin came on the field – but Kyler never came off, not all the way. Sure, the Seahawks had to be allowed to sub, but they did, with their field-goal block unit, so when Kyler jumped into shotgun still on the field, the officials didn't have to delay for another Seahawks sub.

McBride said receiver Greg Dortch was actually the first option on the play, but Dortch fell down. One cornerback had to cover McBride and wideout Michael Wilson "so either way he was wrong." Murray said special teams coordinator Jeff Rodgers has had the play in since he's been in the league. "We finally got it. Finally hit it. My rookie year we tried it in New Orleans and a couple other places but yeah, he was geeked up about that one."

-- Punter Blake Gillikin, after not punting at all in Philadelphia, had a great day. He had a 61-yard bomb and his two "short" punts of 46 and 46 yards were downed at the Seattle 7 and 2, respectively. He also averaged 50.4 yards a punt this season, setting a franchise record.

-- The Cardinals' defensive issues in a nutshell – the entire starting defensive line Sunday was not on the team when the regular season began. Roy Lopez was signed in late September, Phil Hoskins in early October and Naquan Jones in late November, and all started on the practice squad.

-- Prater didn't hit his field goals at the end, although he did have two, the 400th and 401st of his career. He acknowledged his first miss in the fourth quarter he thought was an anomaly and didn't adjust on his 51-yarder. He promised it wouldn't happen again. All I know is that he was there at his locker – when he could've bailed while Jonathan Gannon was talking – to answer questions. As a long-time beat writer, that's simply a pro move. Prater had a great season, setting an NFL record for field goals of at least 55 yards. This shouldn't take away from that.

-- Remarkably, Gannon didn't throw a challenge flag all season until 8:11 remained in the fourth quarter Sunday. But he's batting 1.000, since a pass ruled a completion to Seahawks wide receiver DK Metcalf was overturned.

-- Budda Baker nearly had his first interception of the season off a deflection but he couldn't hold on a diving attempt. Baker threw his gloves in the trash after the play.

-- Murray had his longest run of the season – 33 yards – and got to 19.5 miles an hour according to Next Gen Stats. Seemed faster. Murray was a blur as he cut up the middle.

-- Speaking of Murray, he was (expletive) angry when linebacker Devin Bush hit him as he slid in the fourth quarter. No flag was thrown, and Kyler was down long enough that he had to sit out a play. He deftly dodged saying too much after the game. "I had already kind of had a little tweak in my ankle and then (the hit was) kind of unnecessary I felt like. I'm not going to complain about it right now, but I felt like that was kind of late, unnecessary or whatever you want to call it. I felt like there should have been a flag, but it is what it is."

-- Murray was under center 30 times Sunday. That seems like a huge part of the game that will only grow for him, and there is no question he has proven he can play that way. Next year's offense will be fascinating to watch, especially after they draft a wide receiver.

-- I wrote a whole game story about it, but what else can you say about James Conner. The man was the team MVP this season and proved it every step of the way.

So that's it for tonight. Another season down. An offseason to go. As always.