Cardinals' James Conner was 'lights out' in homecoming game

TEMPE, Ariz. -- James Conner isn't one to say much.

He doesn't pontificate in front of the cameras or promote himself at all. But it wasn't a secret that going back to Pittsburgh was going to mean a lot for the Arizona Cardinals' running back. Conner is a native of Western Pennsylvania. He went to the University of Pittsburgh, where he shared a stadium with the Pittsburgh Steelers, who drafted Conner in the third round of the 2017 NFL draft.

When this season's schedule came out in May, Conner made note of the road trip to Pittsburgh but didn't pay too much attention to it because it wasn't happening until December.

On Sunday, the day finally arrived and Conner let his actions speak for him.

In front of about 20 friends and family, Conner had his best game of the season, rushing for 105 yards and two touchdowns.

"I thought that he played outstanding," coach Jonathan Gannon said.

Conner's homecoming was everything he could have imagined: He played well and the Cardinals left with a dominating 24-10 win at Acrisure Stadium.

After his second 100-yard game of the season, Conner said there was a "special energy" in the building.

"Everything about this place, man, is special," Conner said.

"Emotions was running high, but I was just taking it all in, just accepting it all. It's a lot of love. Got love for this place. It's all love."

There was a reunion everywhere Conner looked on Sunday.

He saw former teammates, like T.J. Watt, whom the Steelers drafted in the same class as Conner, and quarterback Kenny Pickett, a fellow Pitt alum who was drafted five years after Conner but has become a good friend. He got to see head coach Mike Tomlin and interim offensive coordinator Eddie Faulkner, who was Conner's position coach his last two years in Pittsburgh, as well as countless others, like the same security guards who were there during his four years at Pitt and four seasons with the Steelers.

"Just told them how much I appreciate them all," Conner said. "They were huge for me in my journey. The lessons that I learned being a Steeler [were] so valuable, so I just take them with me to this day.

"But a lot of love throughout everybody around here."

The plan heading into the game, quarterback Kyler Murray said, was to get Conner "a lot of carries." Conner finished with a season-high 25. He now has 631 yards and four touchdowns and is on pace for a career-high 4.9 yards-per-carry average.

His touchdown in the third quarter from the 1-yard line put Arizona up 17-3. About midway through the fourth quarter, Conner added another touchdown run, this one from the 9, to put the game out of reach at 24-3.

"We know how much it means for him to come back home and be able to do his thing, so I was super excited for him," Murray said. "Happy that he got to -- obviously two touchdowns, 100 plus yards, so it was good for him."

It led to Gannon giving Conner a game ball.

"He was lights out. Honestly, that's a really good defense," Gannon said.

"That's how he always plays, though. But special for him coming back here, home. Glad for him to have a big-time day."