And it led to a dramatic 27-27 tie.
Murray led the Arizona Cardinals back from an 18-point deficit to tie the game with 43 seconds left in the fourth quarter and force overtime. Once in the extra period, Murray led the Cardinals quickly down the field, but the offense stalled at the 10, settling for a field goal. Detroit matched the kick, setting Murray up for a potential winning drive, which did not develop.
“I thought in the second half, he did a great job fighting and bringing us back,” Arizona coach Kliff Kingsbury said. “Being down 18 in your first start, finding a way to get back, I mean, that’s impressive, so I was really proud of his effort.
“I got to do a better job early in the game of getting him comfortable and getting him in a groove.”
Murray, who finished with 308 yards, two scores and an interception on 29-for-54 passing, orchestrated the comeback with a dazzling fourth quarter that included his first two NFL touchdown passes, a display of his renowned accuracy, impressive footwork and a command of Kingsbury’s much-anticipated offense.
“He did great,” Cardinals running back David Johnson said. “He did great managing the clock well, managing the offense well, being the leader, being vocal and telling everyone what to do.
“He’s only a rookie, so he’s been doing great.”
Murray was much less effective through the opening three quarters, throwing for 70 yards and an interception on 9-for-25 passing.
The offense, in his words, was “pretty ugly at first.” And Kingsbury took the blame for that.
“I did a poor job early of trying to be too cute, overcreative,” Kingsbury said. “I think sometimes when you have all summer to draw stuff up, you can get out of your comfort zone, and I think it affected our quarterback early. I wasn’t getting him in a rhythm. We couldn’t sustain any drives and get him going and settling in.”
Kingsbury said that part of trying to do too much as a playcaller included using different personnel groups. All told, it resulted in a stagnant, bumpy, inconsistent offense, which led to Kingsbury altering his playcalling.
“It was three quarters of the worst offense I’ve ever seen in my life,” Kingsbury said. “And it was my fault.”
When Kingsbury changed, so did the offense: The Cardinals started doing what they’re good at.
Then Murray turned it on. He went 15-for-19 passing for 154 yards and two touchdowns in the fourth quarter, leading the Cardinals back from a 24-6 deficit.
After his inconsistent first three quarters, Murray went 20-for-29 for 238 yards and two touchdowns in the fourth quarter and overtime.
Murray joined Jake Plummer as the only Cardinals rookie quarterbacks to throw for 300 yards and two touchdowns since the AFL-NFL merger in 1970, according to ESPN Stats & Information research. Murray also was the first Cardinals quarterback with 54 pass attempts in a game since Kurt Warner in Week 4 of 2008.
He hit Johnson for a 27-yard touchdown pass with 5 minutes, 57 seconds left in regulation to bring Arizona to within 24-16. On the tying drive late in the fourth quarter, Murray found wide receiver KeeSean Johnson on a nearly sidearm throw. On the next play, Murray ran out of the bounds after gaining 9 yards and showcasing his quick footwork.
Kyler Murray evaluates the Cardinals’ early struggles and how things got rolling in the fourth quarter.
Murray said he took what the defense gave him and reacted in the fourth quarter.
“Once you get in that rhythm, we’re going quick, everything kind of just opened up,” he said.
Murray relied heavily on both Larry Fitzgerald and Johnson late in Sunday’s contest.
Johnson had 58 all-purpose yards in the fourth quarter, including 40 yards receiving, while Fitzgerald had five catches for 59 yards, including the tying touchdown grab on a rollout by Murray. The Cardinals all but replicated the play on the two-point conversion to Christian Kirk that tied the game at 24.
For the first 3½ quarters, Murray was unable to lead the Cardinals into the end zone.
He got close a few times.
With 1:32 left in the second quarter, the Cardinals had possession at the Lions’ 2, but Murray couldn’t turn the corner on a run right, then threw an incompletion as Arizona settled for a field goal, its first points of the game. At that point, the Cardinals trailed 17-3.
The offense in the first half, Murray said, was “pretty bad.”
“At some point, something had to happen,” he said. “And that was kind of the mindset. I felt like I was going to do anything in my power to kind of get it going. It felt really bad at times, but it ended up opening up.”
Murray also led the Cardinals to the Lions’ 24 and 16 on consecutive drives at the end of the third and beginning of the fourth quarters; both resulted in a field goal.
Murray said last week that he had heard regular-season football was different than the preseason. He figured it out quickly. He saw four passes batted down, including one late in overtime, and was sacked three times in the first half and five times overall.
He tried to use his mobility to escape pressure but wasn’t able to evade defenders for long. On a second-and-7 play in the second quarter, he outran two Lions, but he couldn’t avoid the third, linebacker Devon Kennard, who registered the sack.
“The thing I love most about him is that one bad play or one good play doesn’t affect the way he thinks about the next play,” Fitzgerald said. “He’s got a real good disposition and mentality about him. He got hit and had an interception — a lot of young quarterbacks that would’ve sent them into the tank, but that didn’t happen to him. He stuck it out.
“He’s really competitive, and that will be very good in our future.”
Arizona went three-and-out four times in the first half and five times overall, gaining just 58 yards before halftime.
The offense showed much of what was expected: three-, four- and five-receiver sets; no-huddle; tempo; and designed runs for Murray. But early in the game, none of it was effective.
Murray was 1-for-6 on throws of more than 10 yards downfield for 12 yards with an interception, according to ESPN Stats & Information research. He had two dropbacks against the blitz in the first two quarters; he was sacked on one and intercepted on the other. And when the Cardinals went with an empty set, meaning no running back on the field, Murray was 0-for-6 without a sack.
It got to a point where fans inside State Farm Stadium began booing each subsequent three-and-out.
“A tie is a hell a lot better than a loss,” Fitzgerald said. “We’re still undefeated.”