GLENDALE, Ariz. — All week long the Vikings talked about the things they had to do to stop Arizona Cardinals quarterback Kyler Murray.
The most important thing? They had to keep him in the pocket as best they could. Though Vikings coach Mike Zimmer admitted it was impossible to do that for a whole game, he knew his team could be in trouble if they allowed Murray to run around.
On Sunday afternoon, Sept. 19, the 5-foot-10, 205-pound quarterback proved Zimmer right, consistently using his legs to extend plays en route to a big game. He finished with 400 passing yards, 31 rushing yards, and 4 total touchdowns as the Vikings suffered a 34-33 loss to the Cardinals.
As impressive as Murray was throughout the game, the Vikings still had a chance to win it with kicker Greg Joseph lining up for a 37-yard field goal in the waning seconds. He missed it wide right.
That spoiled a solid game from quarterback Kirk Cousins, who finished 22 for 32 passing for 244 yards and three touchdowns, and led a masterful drive down the stretch to set up a potential game-winning field goal.
In the end, though, Joseph crumbled under the pressure, missing a chip shot he definitely should’ve made. Not surprisingly, his teammates came to his defense after the game, trying their best to keep his spirits up amid the lowest moment of his NFL career.
“That play didn’t lose the game,” said Vikings linebacker Nick Vigil, who had a 38-yard interception returned for a touchdown in the loss. “You can blame it on three or four plays that happened before that where we could’ve won the game.”
In reality, Vigil’s comments are easy to debunk. If Joseph made the 37-yard field goal, the Vikings would’ve won the game as time expired. Instead, he missed it and the Vikings lost the game as time expired.
That said, Vigil also has a point that the Vikings could’ve done things throughout the game to make sure it didn’t come down to the final play. And it all goes back to Murray.
There was the incredible scramble in the first quarter where Murray escaped a massive amount of pressure and found superstar receiver DeAndre Hopkins for a 14-yard touchdown.
There was the magnificent play in the second quarter where Murray reversed pivoted out of the pocket to avoid a sack, sprinted to his left, and delivered strike to a wide open Rondale Moore for a 77-yard touchdown.
There was the efficient drive in the third quarter where Murray was cool, calm, and collected in his march down the field, finishing it with a touchdown pass to A.J. Green.
There was the huge conversion in the fourth quarter where Murray backpedaled as far as he could before launching a 55-yard strike to receiver Christian Kirk for a first down.
“For the most part, when he does scramble and run around, if he doesn’t get inside, if he’s outside the tackle box, he’s looking to throw the ball,” Vikings cornerback Patrick Peterson said of defending Murray. “Our main focus was trying to keep those rush lanes cloudy for him and not allow him to get outside. But obviously things happen throughout the course of the game.”
Asked about Murray after the game, Zimmer said he thought it took his team awhile to get used to the “helter-skelter” that the Cardinals deploy on offense. They use a lot of pre-snap motion to try to confuse opposing defenses, and once the ball is snapped, they seem to thrive when Murray creates chaos.
“I thought we settled down the second half and did a much better job there,” Zimmer said. “Just gave up a couple big plays that hurt us toward the end of the first half.”
Still, the Vikings had a chance to win on the final play of the game. After getting the ball back with 2:03 left on the clock, Cousins led the offense down the field, completing a clutch pass to Adam Thielen on third down, then a couple of passes to K.J. Osborn to set up a potential game-winner.
“I felt good about that kick,” Zimmer said. “He’s been kicking good. We are indoors. It’s a perfect surface. I’m thinking, ‘This should be an easy one here.’”
It wasn’t. The loss drops the Vikings to 0-2 on the season with games against two of the better teams in the NFL — the Seattle Seahawks and Cleveland Browns — lurking in the next couple of weeks.
“We are probably two plays away from being 2-0,” Zimmer said referencing Dalvin Cook’s fumble in overtime last week and Joseph’s missed field goal this week. “We will just keep grinding and keep fighting.”
Made aware of Zimmer’s comments postgame, Cousins nodded his head in agreement. He still believes the Vikings still have a chance to be a good team.
“We just have to turn a few of these losses into wins,” Cousins said. “I could have told you in July or August that I believe in the guys on this team and the group we have, so after two games, my opinion hasn’t changed at all.”