The Arizona Cardinals went into their bye week with a 5-2 record, certainly well positioned for a strong second half of the season. A subsequent 34-31 loss to the Miami Dolphins was emphatically erased after a walkoff 32-30 victory against the Buffalo Bills on November 15.
Unfortunately, the 6-3 Cardinals couldn’t continue to build momentum after the last-second Hail Mary, losing their next three games and five of their final seven to finish the season at an even 8-8.
With the Seattle Seahawks and Los Angeles Rams coming off playoff appearances and a healthy San Francisco 49ers rounding out the NFC West, Arizona quarterback Kyler Murray knows things won’t get any easier for the Cardinals in 2021. He also knows in order for the team to duke it out in the Wild West, it starts with him.
“I think we play in the hardest division in the NFL,” Murray said. “We just have to get better, and it’s not going to get easier. Those teams are here to stay. I think it starts with me—me taking that next step and guys following my lead. We have a lot of areas I feel we need to get better and I think we’ll attack those in the offseason with free agency and stuff like that, so we’ll see.”
The Cardinals made their first major offseason move on March 1, announcing a two-year contract with All-Pro defensive end J.J. Watt, reportedly for $31 million ($23 million guaranteed).
With Arizona shoring up its defensive front, the pressure to improve and succeed isn’t lost on Murray, who is well aware of the weight associated with being the 2018 Heisman Trophy winner, first overall selection in the 2019 NFL Draft, and the 2019 NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year.
Murray, 23, showed he’s taking steps in the right direction from his rookie season to his sophomore campaign in the NFL. He had increases in his passing touchdowns (from 12 to 26), passing yards (3,722 to 3,971), completion percentage (64.4% to 67.2%), rushing yards (544 to 819) and rushing TDs (four to 11) while keeping his interceptions the same at 12.
“I definitely made strides from year 1 to year 2,” Murray said. “I think there’s a lot of work to be done not only for me but from everybody. [In 2019] I played 16 games and got all those reps as a rookie, so that was huge for me. Towards the end of the season I was a lot more comfortable and we started playing better as an offense.
“The NFL is obviously the highest level and it’s not easy, so to come in as a rookie and get your feet wet, I think that next year is huge because the game does slow down for you and you see that jump. Next year I hope to make another jump. I’m not really too worried about what people think. I just continue to work hard and let my game speak for itself.”
A big reason for Murray’s increased production in 2020 can be attributed to the acquisition of All-Pro wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins from the Houston Texans on March 20. Hopkins led the Cardinals with 115 receptions for 1,407 yards and six touchdowns; he had 61 more receptions than Larry Fitzgerald, who ranked No. 2 on the team with 54 catches, and 786 more receiving yards than Christian Kirk’s second-best 621.
Murray said he and Hopkins “hit it off instantly” when the quarterback flew his receivers out to Dallas last year before the season.
“I think he’s the best receiver in the game,” Murray said. “For us to go out here and do what we did in our first year speaks volumes, and hopefully we can keep adding on to what we did and keep being better. For me and him we want to be the best and I think that’s what drives us.”
Murray and Hopkins aren’t the only ones striving to be the best. BodyArmor, a company Murray has an equity stake in since October, continues to make strides towards its goal of eclipsing Gatorade by 2025. The better-for-you sports drink brand launched BodyArmor Edge, its new sports drink with natural caffeine, earlier this month.
Murray, a 2020 NFL Pro Bowl selection, stars in the product’s new “Get Your Edge” campaign along with reigning NBA Rookie of the Year Ja Morant.
“I’m thrilled to be part of the first ever [Edge] campaign,” Murray said. “I’m excited to be part of their newest drink. Especially for me as an athlete being real particular about what I put in my body, I love it and for me to be on the front of it with Ja it’s a huge honor and I’m very proud of it.
“That’s something I live by: trying to be the best in whatever I do. The fact that at BodyArmor it’s a moral they have—to try to grow and be the best and try to surpass Gatorade—especially with the athletes that BodyArmor has, I think that it’s very reachable. I’m excited and thrilled to be a part of the campaign.”