The Kliff Kingsbury/Kyler Murray era officially kicked off Sunday afternoon in Glendale as Murray led a dramatic fourth-quarter comeback at State Farm Stadium. In the end, it wasn’t quite enough but the Arizona Cardinals salvaged a 27-27 tie with the Detroit Lions before an announced crowd of 60,687. It marked the sixth tie between the two teams dating back to 1930.
Here are five things we learned.
A Tale of Two Halves…Sunday Murray mostly looked like a rookie quarterback making his first career NFL start. He overthrew several balls, took sacks, forced throws and most importantly, did a poor job finishing drives. “Three quarters of the worst offense I’d ever seen,” Kingbury bluntly admitted afterwards. “And it was my fault.” However, a deep completion to Larry Fitzgerald early in the fourth quarter seemed to kick-start the Cards’ offense which outscored the Lions 18-3 to force overtime. Murray finished 29-54 for 308 yards. He threw two touchdowns and was intercepted once. He was also sacked five times.
Finding Fitz …After an extremely slow start, Fitzgerald saved his best for last. “Larry Legend” caught what proved to be the eventual game-tying touchdown and his big grabs on deep “50-50” balls kept drives alive and spirits high after one a dreadful first three-quarters of offensive football. “A tie is still a [heck] of a lot better than a loss,” he said afterwards. “We are still undefeated.” Fitz was targeted a team-high 13 times and finished with eight receptions for 103 yards and the score.
Patricia vs. Kingsbury…Kingsbury preached all pre-season the Cardinals’ offense would look much different when the regular season started. Arizona managed just 58 total yards on eight possessions in the first two quarters and if it wasn’t for a muffed punt deep in Detroit territory, the Cards would have likely been shut out in the first half. Matt Patricia’s defense seemed to know exactly when to bring pressure and when to sit in coverage. The head coach’s strategy to frequently drop eight in zone and rush three on third-and-long not only took away the big play potential downfield, but kept Murray from running for big gains with the field spread. Murray credited Kingsbury for making the in-game adjusts to flip the script late. Both rookie head coach and quarterback called Sunday’s first regular season game a learning experience. The task will get much tougher next weekend with a cross-country trip to Baltimore to take in the Ravens.
Hock-Eyes...Early Sunday it was easy to see why the Lions drafted tight end T.J. Hockenson with the eighth overall pick this spring. The 6-5, 247-pounder led the Detroit in receiving yards in the first half with receiving yards with 77 and was frequently running past Cardinal linebackers, particularly Joe Walker. His ability to open up the field vertically allowed space for veteran Danny Amendola to work the sidelines. He caught a 47-yard touchdown from Matthew Stafford which took quite a bit of air out an excited crowd inside State Farm Stadium. Amendola finished with seven catches for 104 yards and a touchdown. Hockenson’s caught a 23-yard touchdown reception from Matthew Stafford in the fourth quarter. His 131 receiving yards was tops for both teams.
Sherfield Shines Again …In an exhibition season filled with far more misses than hits, wide receiver Trent Sherfield continues to impress. The second-year free-agent from Vanderbilt was once again a demon as a “gunner” on special teams. His muffed punt recovery before halftime set up Arizona’s lone score in the first half. Sherfield’s effort and, equally important, execution won’t go unnoticed on film. Overall, the Red Bird special teams were brilliant. Kicker Zane Gonzalez was perfect on his four field goal attempts and punter Andy Lee helped flip field position in the second half, averaging 47.5 yards per attempt.