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ARI 32 BUF 30: Hail Murray Holy Hop

NFL: Buffalo Bills at Arizona Cardinals Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

I went to bed Saturday night feeling upset with myself.

Having harbored the wishful thinking that my upstart BC Eagles could upset the Fighting Irish of #2 ranked Notre Dame, I spent much of the game screaming at BC’s array of blunders. After BC’s 45-31 blowout loss, I walked out to get some fresh air—-and while looking up at the stars, I made a vow to try to stop being such an angry football fan.

You see—-as you might have noticed from my articles last week—-I spent the whole week feeling irate at the Cardinals for wasting such a stellar performance by Kyler Murray in their disappointing 34-31 home loss to the Dolphins—-and felt particularly disdainful of what I perceived to be a lack of effort and competitive fire from the Cardinals’ defense—-that, in my opinion, made Tua Tagovailoa’s job all the easier in rallying his team to the upset win.

I was also feeling particularly vexed by the Cardinals’ sudden 3rd and 1 woes—-and their 4th and 1 failure to the point of thinking that if Tua can run a QB sneak to win the game, why can’t Kyler? And if not Kyler, why not go back to Chris Streveler? Streveler got the job done earlier in the season before the Arizona media shamed Kingsbury for ever taking the ball out of Murray’s hands.

However, after a week of intense football frustration, I woke up Sunday morning reminding myself of the vow I took under the Saturday evening stars.

But, then upon arriving in the kitchen, I quickly became irate at myself for having somehow managed to leave the freezer door an inch ajar. Just that day I had packed the freezer with 2 weeks worth of frozen dinners and the biggest bag of ice I could find for my nightly Absolut and seltzer happy hour cocktail. I was thinking I might be able to last 2 weeks before having to go to the grocery again in the midst of this insidious and ever-festering pandemic.

It was as if I had crammed the small freezer so tightly that it burped during the night and pushed the door ajar. Or maybe it popped open after one of my loudest cusses during the BC/ND game. I touched a Friendly’s ice cream bar that was lying on the freezer door and it had turned to a squishy liquid. I wondered whether I had just lost over $150 dollars in frozen goods, when I decided to shut the door tightly and hope for the best.

All of this adds context to how I experienced the Cardinals’ unforgettable 32-30 home Hail Murray Holy Hop victory over the Bills.

Subconsciously, I had spent the week feeling as if the Cardinals were going to need some kind of miracle to be able to prevail over the Bills—-which is perhaps why, at the end of my “I Got You, Coach” article, I posted a video of the biggest miracle I experienced as a coach, when my small forward at Foxborough High School, Pat Smith, swished a 67 foot Hail Mary in the SE Mass Division 2 Boys’ Basketball semi-finals to turn what appeared to be a sure 2 point loss into a phenomenal 1 point win at the buzzer.

Moreover, after listening to Kyler Murray describe himself as the queen on a the chessboard and describe DeAndre Hopkins as the knight, I took special notice while watching episode 4 of The Queen’s Gambit when Beth Harmon learns how much the odds of winning a chess game increase when a player has the chance sit on the White side of the board and make the first move.

All season long, I have been wondering whether Kliff Kingsbury has been doing the right thing when winning the coin flip by deferring the ball, so as to kick the ball off in favor of receiving the opening kickoff of the second half.

In my way of thinking, right or wrong, it occurred to me that if you take the ball first you might be able to have one more possession in the entire game than the opponent—-you might be able to set the tone for the entire game, which would mean you would have the ball first and last—-and you might be able to avoid getting the team in an early hole as they were when Russell Wilson led the Seahawks on a time-consuming first possession TD drive to give the Seahawks a lead that the Cardinals never had until the game winning FG in OT.

Plus, I have worried that giving up long time-consuming scoring drives at the beginning of the games can have a way of icing one’s own QB and making him all the more anxious in having to dig the team out of an early hole and put up the customary numbers.

Therefore, I was delighted to see that the Bills won the toss and deferred—-and even more delighted to see Kyler Murray methodically lead the team right down the field. The offense faltered in the red zone on a 2 yard QB run to the right that the Bills reacted to quickly, on a a high pass that Murray threw to Hopkins at the back end of the end zone and then on an incomplete short pass to Hopkins.

But—-at least it felt good to see Zane Gonzalez make this kick to take a 3-0 lead.

On the Bills’ second offensive play, Patrick Peterson got called for a holding penalty on Stefon Diggs which was declined after Diggs made a 10 yard catch on the play. I wondered what kind of a game this would be for PP21. As it turned out, his last play of the game was the TD he gave up to Diggs on the perfect laser that Josh Allen threw with 32 seconds left, which put the Bills up 30-26 and the game seemingly out of reach for the Cardinals.

In between, Patrick Peterson had the chance to pick off three passes—-two of which he was unable to corral (still not sure why he didn’t try to high point the first pass which was coming right to him), but the third was charm and was key in helping the Cardinals roar back from a 14 point 3rd quarter deficit to take a 26-23 lead.

On the TD pass to Diggs, Peterson made the same mistake he made versus DeVante Parker on the key 3rd on his slant pass from Dolphins’ end zone that allowed the Dolphins to go the 93 yards for their game tying 4th quarter TD. On the snap, PP wasn’t in an athletic stance—-when he’s not in press coverage, he tends to play cushion in a loosey-goosey fashion where he starts to drift backward on the snap and gives his man an easy chance to cross his face. When Peterson loses leverage so easily like that, he needs to sprint his tail off to recover, but recently he’s not recovering as fast as he needs to. I believe he still has that extra gear, but for some reason he might be thinking he could pop a hammy if he kicked it in.

On this TD to Diggs—-which the vast majority of CBs in the NFL would have trouble defending, particularly if they lost leverage as quickly as PP did off the snap and when the pass is delivered at 60 mph on a dime—-even though PP got caught in a chase mode—-when Diggs was looking back for the ball in the end zone, PP could/should have at least planed out to try to make the catch more difficult.

While Patrick Peterson made a number of strong efforts in this game (which is why I was feeling bad for him)—-while he seems very excited about the Cardinals being in the playoff hunt, saying this past week that every remaining game is a “playoff game”—-I wish that his technique and concentration were stronger and I fervently hope that one of these games he leaves everything he has on the field—-because, if that starts to happen and other key veterans on the defense follow suit—-this team could climb into the upper echelon of NFL playoff contenders.

The first half was very frustrating because the offense stalled out three times in the red zone (which Kingsbury once again blamed on his poor play calling per the CBS announcers), while, after surrendering the trick RB throwback pass to Josh Allen TD, the Cardinals’ defense was stiffening and forcing the Bills to try three 50+ yard field goals, all of which rookie K Tyler Bass nailed. Ugh.

But, I was feeling thankful that Zane Gonzalez made all three of his FGs, in light of the tough ending to the Dolphins’ game.

While I mentioned this opinion last week, I think that Kliff Kingsbury is making a mistake by trying to create the perfect half-ending TDs by milking the clock and marching down to score with little or not time left for the opponent to retaliate.

I wish he would go all-out for TDs and let the clock take care of itself.

I completely understand why he’s trying to milk the clock because his defense repeatedly over the course of his 25 games as head coach has given up FGs or TDs at end of each half—-just as it did to Dolphins and this week to the Bills with Bass’ 58 yard FG in the first half with 84 seconds left and with Diggs’ 24 yard TD in the second half with 32 seconds left.

The irony for Kingsbury is that while his conservative play calling at the end of each half starts to look good, he sets up a number of high pressure 3rd down situations—-and when one of the 3rd down conversion attempts fails, these past two weeks it has wound up giving the ball back to the Dolphins and Bills with ample time on the clock.

3rd and 1 failures have haunted the Cardinals for two games now—-and what the Dolphins and Bills did was to stack the line all the way out to the edges and dared the Cardinals to run the ball. While it’s understandable that Kingsbury would prefer not to pass for fear of a tipped or batted down pass—-the answer is, if he is ever going to deter defenses from stacking the line in short yardage situations, he has to call passing plays down field.

After unsuccessfully running the ball with the lead in the 4th quarter, twice, despite the outcry from some of his critics, Kingsbury was absolutely correct to try to to pass the ball with 4:29 left because the Bills were stacking the line—-but—-here’s the key—-because of them stacking the line and edges the defenders are going to get their hands up in passing situations—-so these can’t be short dink and dunk passes, they need to be intermediate to long passes—-like the perfect one they got with Fitz up the middle that in a most bizarre twist of fate turned into a rare Fitz drop with an uncanny flip of the ball interception.

The problem on that perfect play call was not Murray’s throw—-Fitz knows that in busted zone situations where he find himself wide open in the middle his job is to “sit down” in the zone especially where he has a clear passing lane to Murray—-instead Fitz’s drifted a little too far away from the passing lane and Murray threw the pass only to where Fitz could catch it in fear that the backside safety (who was blocked from Murray’s view) wouldn’t pick the ball off the way Landon Collins did earlier in the season. Murray knows he cannot turn the ball over in that situation, therefore he couldn’t risk throwing the ball into a blind spot.

It feels strange to notice aspects of Fitz’s game that are escaping him this season—-but—-on two third down plays Fitz didn’t take advantage of his opportunities—-first by not “posting up” his man on the hook route that Kyler threw to him that was incomplete and secondly on a play where Kyler was flushed to his right and had time to find an open receiver downfield—-and had Fitz not stopped running on the play he had such clear path to be wide open over the middle, yet he didn’t make a move.

What’s very encouraging is the magnificent improvement that TE Dan Arnold is making, not only as a receiver where, quite frankly, #85 has recently looked a little like another #85 in the division by making clean, clutch (4th down conversion) catches and turning upfield hard for as many RAC yards as he can, but also in his effective blocking in the flats and downfield.

At the same time on the other side of the ball we are seeing the emergence of Isaiah Simmons and the superb athleticism he brings to the defense. As we saw, Josh Allen is so tough to sack—-it’s as if he has a shield around him. But this play by Simmons is a work of art and the very reason why players are taught to play to the whistle:

The 2nd half of this game was a tale of restitutions:

  • Patrick Peterson getting his interception after dropping two other potential ones.
  • Dre Kirkpatrick getting his interception on a crossing route that he tried so hard to cover versus Kyle Lockett.
  • Angelo Blackson and Trevon Coley for upping their games when it was needed the most.
  • Kenyan Drake for making up for his fumble, his illegal motion penalty and going the wrong way on play that Kyler has to take sack on, by rushing for 100 tough yards.
  • J.R. Sweezy for his strong return to the lineup just when he was needed most.
  • Andy Isabella who made the most this time of his hook pass reception—-which was the first of Kyler Murray’s 4/4 for 75 yard game winning TD drive.
  • Larry Fitzgerald caught the 9 yard pass (and smartly got out of bounds) that set up the Hail Murray.
  • DeAndre Hopkins for his untimely false start which stalled a drive—-delivered on the Holy Hop.
  • Kyler Murray for being called out during the week in the national media by Bart Scott for lack of leadership— end this game on a signature play. Gotta love Gambo for this tweet:
  • “I Got You Coach” Kingsbury—-you had the perfect call at the perfect time—-even though you will never give yourself credit.

So—here is how I experienced the miracle ending of the game.

Just before the Bills started their last drive, the timer on my oven buzzed. The Stouffer’s frozen meatloaf and mashed potato tv dinner (that was crusted in refrozen ice because of my freezer door being two inches ajar all night) was now ready to eat.

I paused the TV and set up my tray and then poured myself a beer. While eating, I watched the Bills’ last drive and right before the TD pass I stopped eating—-my stomach was in knots—-like yours was, i imagine—-and when Diggs caught the perfectly thrown TD from Allen, I remained good to my vow—-I didn’t scream or swear or cuss or throw anything, not even a hint of a tantrum—-I just thought of how this week I was going to offer much more praise for the overall effort than I gave last week, because the Cardinals did so many good things in the game on high effort plays, particularly in that second half. The Cardinals were super competitive this week and, as fan, that feels good, even if and when the team loses a tough one.

Then, after fast forwarding through the commercials to get to the Cardinals’ last 32 seconds, the sound of crystals for texts on my cellphone started going crazy. I thought it must be several of my family and friends offering their condolences for the Cardinals losing such a close, hotly contested game. This game was CBS’ feature 4 PM game in Massachusetts, as the Patriots were playing on Sunday Night Football. So, I knew that more friends were watching the game than normal.

But, then again, there was something magical about the chiming of these crystals that I couldn’t fully ignore. I didn’t dare look at the tweets yet—-because the crystals allowed me to dream the very thought.

And curiously enough this happened:

It was like a Shakespeare play where the ending was slightly hinted at by a character or by the Chorus. In this case, titled The Merry Black Gloves of Glendale.

I attended another play with a similar ending back in the 1980s, which is why all I could think of to tweet in my utter joy was:

Now having watched the play numerous times, I have to say that the degree of difficulty for last night’s Hail Murray Holy Hop was a great deal higher than Doug Flutie’s Miracle to Gerard Phelan (who played briefly for the Cardinals, btw) in Miami, basically because Flutie was able to find a way to step into his throw, whereas Kyler Murray’s unbelievable twisting 55 yard throw (like a shortstop from the hole going to his left and having to throw a twisting off-balance dime to first base to win the game) while running to his left and fading backward defies virtually all of the odds in terms of its timing and pinpoint accuracy and in terms of Hopkins’ perfectly timed 36” vertical jump.

By the numbers—-here is how the miracle jump and catch was humanly possible: (by the Combine numbers): Hopkins inside a teepee of the Bills’ starting CB, FS and SS (3 Pro Bowl caliber defenders).

DeAndre Hopkins: 6-1, 36” vertical

TreDavious White: 5-11, 32” vertical

Micah Hyde: 5-11, 33” vertical

Jordan Poyer: 6-0, 30.5” vertical.

I imagine that this is yet another reason why they call football the proverbial “game of inches.”

The day after my small forward Pat Smith made the 67 foot “Shot That Shook South Street” in the State Semi-Finals, ABC-TV Boston came to Foxborough High to interview Pat and they gave Pat 10 chances to make the shot again, twisting and turning at the same spot in the floor, just as he did in the game.

Pat grazed the rim once and on his 10th and final try he actually made the shot! Only this time it wasn’t a swish, this time it caromed in off the backboard. We all went berserk again anyway! So did the ABC crew!

The crazy thing is, if we gave Kyler Murray 10 chances to recreate that perfect pass, while running and fading backward to his left, how many of you believe he could do it again?

Captain D.J. Humphries was firing up the sidelines and exhorting his teammates after the Diggs TD. He kept yelling, when we have Kyler and DeAndre—-there is always a way.

Thus, the thought occurs that after last night—-this kind of Hail Murray Holy Hop could become a ‘cardinal rule.” (which according to YOUR Dictionary: a cardinal rule is: A fundamental rule, upon which other matters hinge).