| Arizona Republic
Kyler Murray couldn’t pick a favorite memory from the first six games he won as a starting quarterback at AT&T Stadium. The Cardinals’ star just knew he’d never lost there before.
“Favorite memory? I don’t know, there’s a lot of good memories there,” Murray said last week. “Three state championships. The last one, the Big 12 championship. I don’t know, that was a pretty special one.”
This last one will rank right up there, wherever Murray decides to put it.
After a sluggish start and some miscommunication between his receivers, Murray and the Cardinals’ offense got it going, the defense cranked up the intensity and forced four turnovers and the end result was a convincing 38-10 thrashing of the Dallas Cowboys on Monday night.
With the victory, the Cardinals improved to 4-1 in their last five appearances on “Monday Night Football.” That’s as many wins as they had in their previous 20 “MNF” appearances. It also vaulted Arizona (4-2) into a second-place tie with the Rams in the hotly contested NFC West and sets up a must-watch showdown on a short week next Sunday at State Farm Stadium against the division-leading Seahawks (5-0).
Everyone was antsy to see how Murray and second-year head coach Kliff Kingsbury would respond under the lights in their first “Monday Night Football” experience, but the Seattle game will be bigger with much more at stake.
“For us, honestly, we just got the W in Dallas, we’re going to celebrate tonight and get ready for the Seahawks tomorrow,” safety Budda Baker said after recording seven tackles, a sack, a forced fumble and the first interception of his career.
“Hopefully, you can ask me that question soon, but we know the Seahawks are a great team. They’re always a great team. Russell Wilson has got them going. D.K. Metcalf, (Chris) Carson and the run game, they’re a great offense, a great team. We know we’re going to have a great challenge ahead of us.”
The Cowboys (2-4) were already reeling following the season-ending loss of quarterback Dak Prescott to a devastating ankle injury. His was just the latest in a series of steady injuries, as Dallas was playing without its two starting offensive tackles, Tyron Smith (neck surgery) and La’el Collins (hip), its starting center, Joe Looney (knee), as well as defensive tackle Trysten Hill (knee) and linebacker Sean Lee (hernia surgery).
Making matters worse, the Cowboys lost right guard Zack Martin to a concussion in the first half.
That’s when this game was won by the Cardinals, as they turned two fumbles by Ezekiel Elliott into back-to-back touchdowns and, after forcing Dallas to punt, Murray hit Christian Kirk for an 80-yard touchdown pass on the very next play.
Before they knew what had happened, the Cowboys were down 21-0 and the 25,000 fans that were allowed inside Jerry World were raining a chorus of boos down on the home team.
The Cardinals did it in their first game without star pass rusher Chandler Jones, who is lost for the season following surgery to repair a torn biceps tendon.
“It’s tough losing not only a great player, but a great leader, a great person, one of the best players in the league,” coach Kliff Kingsbury said. “It’s never easy but I thought our guys responded well. They played hard and practiced hard all well and (defensive coordinator) V.J. (Vance Joseph) and his group had a great plan and executed at a high level.
“Great energy the entire night, turned the ball over four times which was huge and it really turned the game for us.”
The carnage started when Elliott, losing two fumbles in a game for the first time in his career, had the ball stripped from him by Baker. Defensive tackle Jordan Phillips, who wasn’t even sure he would make the game after attending his father’s funeral service during the weekend, recovered the ball at the 46-yard line.
Eleven plays later from the Dallas 6, Kirk went in motion, first to the left, then back to the right, and Murray tossed him a tiny shovel pass that Kirk took into the end zone for the Cardinals’ first touchdown.
But then Elliott fumbled the ball away again, as Phillips stripped him of the ball and cornerback Byron Murphy Jr. pounced on it. Running back Kenyan Drake capped a quick, five-play drive with a 1-yard touchdown run to make it 14-0 and the Cardinals were just getting started.
While Elliott spent most of Dallas’ next possession on the sideline, Arizona’s defense dialed up the pressure on quarterback Andy Dalton, as Baker dropped him with a 7-yard sack, linebacker Haason Reddick knocked down a pass at the line of scrimmage, and Kingsbury smartly accepted a block-in-back penalty on an incomplete pass to push the Cowboys out of field-goal range and forced them to punt.
It paid off in a huge way as on first and 10 from the Cardinals’ own 20, Murray found a wide-open Kirk for the 80-yard bomb.
“It was huge,” Kirk said. “We had missed two of them early and … that was definitely a play that we needed. It sparked us and put us over the top. It was a play we had all week and it was high on our (play) chart.”
Three straight possessions, three straight touchdowns and it was basically over. If it wasn’t, it was about to be shortly into the second half.
After a 34-yard field goal by Greg Zuerlein finally got the Cowboys on the scoreboard at the end of the first half, the Cardinals opened the third quarter by forcing another turnover. Dalton’s pass to rookie CeeDee Lamb was intercepted by cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick and once again, Arizona turned the turnover into another touchdown.
Following a couple of 20-plus yard runs by Drake, Murray did the honors himself with a nifty little 1-yard keeper. It was his sixth rushing touchdown of the season, which tied the franchise single-season record by a quarterback. Jim Hart also ran for six touchdowns in 1968.
With two passing touchdowns and a rushing touchdown to that point, it gave Murray 30 total touchdown passes and 10 rushing touchdowns in 22 career games. He became just the fifth player in NFL history with 30 or more passing touchdowns and 10 or more rushing touchdowns in their first two seasons, joining Prescott, Cam Newton, Lamar Jackson and Josh Allen.
Meanwhile, the Cardinals’ defense kept teeing off on Dalton and the Cowboys. Baker blitzed and knocked Dalton down on an incomplete pass. Zach Allen added a heavy quarterback hit. Reddick came flying in for his second sack of the game. And early in the fourth quarter, Baker picked off a Dalton pass intended for Amari Cooper for the first interception of his career.
Naturally, the Cardinals turned the Cowboys’ fourth turnover of the game into more points. Instead of a touchdown, however, it was a 26-yard field goal by Zane Gonzalez that padded the Cardinals’ lead to 31-3 with 8:54 to play. Murray found DeAndre Hopkins for a 60-yard catch and run to set up the field goal.
It was only the second reception of the day for the NFL’s leading receiver, who finished the night with two catches for 73 yards. Murray was just 9 of 24 for 188 yards to go along with his two touchdown throws and rushing TD.
It looked like Drake was going to be held to under 100 yards, but on his 20th carry, he broke through the Cowboys’ defense for a 69-yard touchdown run, finishing the night with a season-high 164 yards.
“It was awesome,” Kingsbury said. “I’ve said since last year, that cat knows how to finish games. You get into that fourth quarter and he’s going to find first downs, find a hole and run physical. He seems to get stronger as the game goes on. He worked really hard this week. He was frustrated last week with some things and I thought he did a great job of refocusing. He really played at a high level tonight.”
Dalton finished the game completing 34 of 54 passes for 266 yards and one touchdown – a 1-yard pass to Cooper with 2:48 left to play. Dalton was intercepted twice, sacked three times and hit much of the night. Elliott finished with just 49 rushing yards on 12 carries.
The Cowboys lead the league with 15 turnovers and their minus-12 turnover ratio is by far the worst in the league.