TEMPE, Ariz. — Two days after the Arizona Cardinals' win over the Philadelphia Eagles, coach Jonathan Gannon said on his local radio show that he has no doubt Kyler Murray will be the starting quarterback next season, seemingly putting to rest a question that has been hanging around the organization for months.
On Wednesday, Gannon seemed tired of the topic. The first-year coach acted as if this was a done deal. End of discussion.
When asked about his radio comments, Gannon said he had admired Murray since his arrival. The type of player he is. The type of person he is. Type of competitor. Gannon said the speculation made him laugh.
Has Murray done anything in the past seven or eight weeks to strengthen your faith?
“No, he's done everything I asked since I got here.”
Did it surprise you that there was even a question about that?
“Yes, sort of.”
“You guys are watching the tape, right?”
Gannon, as well as offensive coordinator Drew Betzing, have said similar things all season, but Tuesday's comments on “The Burns & Gambo Show” were perhaps his strongest yet. “It's not about one person, but you know I'm a Kyler guy,” Gannon said.
For the rebuilding series, Murray's future has been the biggest story all season. After signing a five-year, $230 million extension in 2022, the former Heisman Trophy winner had a disappointing season under former coach Kliff Kingsbury, a season that ended with a torn ACL in December.
First-year general manager Monte Ossenvoort has since rebuilt Arizona's roster, positioning the Cardinals for the future. The organization has six picks through the first three rounds of the 2024 draft, including two in the first round, its own and Houston's.
Entering Sunday's regular-season finale against Seattle, the 4-12 Cardinals line up to have the fourth pick in April's draft. The menu has several holes in it. The Cardinals lack a shutout corner. They need a game-changing receiver. And pass rusher.
Removing the quarterback from the equation would help Arizona significantly, allowing Ossenfurt to build around Murray rather than finding a way to draft a replacement for him.
The problem: Murray's performance in the seven games since his return on Nov. 12 has been mixed. At times he looked like a franchise quarterback capable of elevating the franchise, and at times he didn't. Until Sunday's win over Philadelphia, his best game might have been his first.
In a 25-23 win over Atlanta on November 12, Murray made the biggest play, running a 13-yard touchdown late in the game that few at his position can do, buying time, reverse fielding, and rushing. In a loss to Houston the following week, Murray hit receiver Rondell Moore over the top for a 48-yard touchdown that was memorable because of the reaction it generated.
On the sideline, Gannon, masculine though he was, walked onto the field, pumped his fist and shouted, “Let's go,” in a rare burst of emotion.
From there, Murray was up and down. He was terrible in the loss to the Rams. He ran the game well in the win over Pittsburgh. It excelled in losses to San Francisco and Chicago. Complicating matters is Arizona's health at receiver. Promising rookie Michael Wilson missed time with a neck issue. Reliable vet Marquis “Hollywood” Brown played through a heel injury but was eventually placed on injured reserve, and was lost for the season.
Sunday's win in Philadelphia was a huge achievement, and Murray is at his best. During the week, the quarterback was sick and had to miss practice, discussing the game plan with coaches via Zoom.
The game followed a familiar script. The Cardinals fell into a 21-6 halftime hole and appeared to be outscored. But in the second half, Murray and his strong running game recovered. With 2 minutes and 28 seconds left in the game, they had the ball, trailing 31-28. “Go win the game,” Gannon told Murray.
The coach saw something in the quarterback's eyes. “We will win,” he told his staff over a headset.
Murray drove the Cardinals on a seven-play winning 70-yard scoring drive. Overall, he completed 25 of 31 for 232 yards and three touchdowns with an interception. In the second half, Murray threw the ball incomplete once on 14 attempts. “He was off,” Gannon said.
Murray said Wednesday that he felt like his old self against the Eagles, playing at a high level, which he did during his Pro Bowl seasons in 2020 and 2021. He has had great success and his aim is to continue, even if it is just for one more game this season. When asked about Gannon's recent comments, Murray was not surprised. He said the coach told him that from day one. All he had to do was focus on playing well.
Murray is aware of the public discussion surrounding his future. Was that an incentive for him? Did he find it annoying? Murray wouldn't say exactly. He said his goal is to beat Seattle. From there, he looks forward to having a complete break without physical limitations. Strengthening his right leg. Build chemistry with receivers.
“I try to stay away from it,” he said of the controversy surrounding his performance and future. “But every quarterback deals with it. Every player deals with it, some more than others. I'm not going to talk about it. Like I said, I try to go out there and do my thing. I know what I'm capable of. Ultimately, when you win, it's Everyone will shut up.”
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(Photo of Kyler Murray during Sunday's win over the Eagles: Mitchell Leaf/Getty Images)