IT HAPPENS EVERY YEAR. There's a moment -- and there's a quarterback -- that forces us to think. Knowing that we saw something special, we wonder how it might change the game forever. In 2020, the Hail Murray was that moment, and Kyler Murray was that quarterback. On Nov. 15, when Murray's seemingly forgettable pass suddenly found DeAndre Hopkins in a thicket of Buffalo Bills as time expired, it not only won the game for the Arizona Cardinals but seemed to signify the arrival of something new. We had seen short quarterbacks before, and we had seen fast quarterbacks before and we had seen short and fast quarterbacks before. Murray? He was different, short and fast and effective, this tiny man causing chaos and uprooting norms, a stylistic anomaly destined to shift the NFL paradigm. The Hail Murray materialized over 11 seconds, but the rush of it was so strong, so spectacular, so viral and so lasting -- it was awarded Clutch Performance Play of the Year at NFL Honors -- that we missed something essential: that the league had already caught on to Kyler Murray by turning all of the elements that made the play special against him.
5.62 seconds until the ball leaves his hand
Kyler Murray leaves the pocket. But even if this play hadn't been planned and practiced for almost two years, in the event of this precise moment against the Bills -- 11 seconds left, down by four, ball at midfield, options reduced to miracle -- and even if it hadn't been a designed rollout, Murray might have left anyway. The play is called Cowboy. It's not quite a Hail Mary. It's a deep route with a Hail Mary option -- wide receiver Andy Isabella crossing and Hopkins long -- and to pull it off, you need a lot of luck and a gifted quarterback. A few playoffs ago, Cardinals coach Kliff Kingsbury, then the head coach at Texas Tech, had watched Aaron Rodgers roll left and hit the Green Bay Packers' Jared Cook by the measure of a skimming foot along the sideline, setting up a field goal to beat the Dallas Cowboys. Kingsbury lifted it, renamed it. That in itself took some stones. Not stealing a play -- stealing an Aaron Rodgers play, as if magic can be replicated.
When Rodgers ran it, he calmly waited a beat in the pocket before wheeling left, turning his back to the line of scrimmage, a man in full control of situation and circumstance. Murray -- well, everything with him is fast, and so he just bolts the pocket, the mark of a young man whose talent has always rewarded impatience.
Jan. 3, 2021: Seven weeks after the Hail Murray
This is it, what quarterbacks live for: Regular-season finale, just under eight minutes left, Arizona down two scores to the Los Angeles Rams. If the Cardinals win, they're in the playoffs, the starting gate for all transcendent quarterbacks. Murray walks onto the field. Walks, not jogs, nursing a reinjured right leg. But now, down 18-7, he has something more valuable than two good legs: time left on the clock. The first four plays are two runs and two short passes, nothing spectacular -- nothing quintessentially Murray, who usually gobbles chunks of yards so fast that it puts defenses in a state of panic -- but they're moving the chains.
Then, it falls apart.