Cardinals' Kyler Murray quickly proves he belongs
Arizona rookie Kyler Murray, passing against Baltimore in Week 2, has thrown for more than 300 yards in each of his first two starts Mitch Stringer-USA TODAY Sports

Cardinals' Kyler Murray quickly proves he belongs

BALTIMORE -- Kyler Murray sat at his cubby in the cramped visitors' locker room of M&T Bank Stadium on Sunday afternoon holding tight his newest prized possession -- a game-worn jersey, fresh from the back of his former Oklahoma teammate and now Ravens rookie wide receiver Marquise Brown. Murray clutched it briefly, appearing for a moment to think, "What a long, strange journey it's been."

Minutes after his first loss as a professional quarterback -- and fully aware that if not for his heroics in salvaging a Week 1 tie against Detroit that it would've been his second loss -- the new face of the Arizona Cardinals was dejected but not depressed. There was a sense among the Cardinals that they had let one slip away, that they'd lost to a good Baltimore Ravens team but had not succumbed. This was not the 3-13 team from last season that collapsed so easily.

Murray jovially chatted with his locker-room neighbor, practice-squad quarterback Kyle Sloter, and he cleaned himself up a bit before heading to the post-game podium, picking small pieces of debris from his hair.

"(Am I) feeling good about where are right now, coming off of last season?" Murray said. "Last season is last season. This is a new one, and for me, personally, I'm not cool with losing. We played hard, lost by six, and we had a chance to win it and we came up short."

This was particularly true of the team's red-zone woes, as the Cardinals had three drives stall inside the 4-yard line, resulting in three Zane Gonzalez field goals.

That was the main topic of conversation on a day when Murray's counterpart -- Baltimore's young star quarterback, Lamar Jackson -- had no such issues. The Ravens had touchdown drives of 94 and 85 yards in the first half, and Jackson helped Baltimore move to 2-0 with 392 yards from scrimmage (120 rushing) and two touchdowns.

Facing a hostile, purple-clad crowd, Murray held up for the most part, but he admitted after the game that he had his bad moments. "It just got loud as hell," he said. "We've got to be better, plain and simple. It's a loud environment, a great environment to be in, and it kind of just got to us."

If he did buckle, he didn't show it.

According to the Cardinals, that is a familiar trait for the stoic top pick. In interviews and in the locker room, Murray plays it pretty close to the vest. At the podium Sunday, he was cordial but not overly revelatory. He did not throw his offensive line under the bus, even if, with eight sacks in two games, it has at times deserved it.

“They're a team that likes to bring a lot of pressure,” Murray said of the Ravens. “They got back there a little bit today. I thought we handled it well for the most part.”

The Cardinals have come to expect such leadership from Murray, the No. 1 overall pick in the 2019 draft.

Murray began to earn their trust early in the offseason, said Cardinals backup quarterback Brett Hundley, no stranger to backing up great leaders. Hundley was drafted by Green Bay in the fourth round of the 2015 draft out of UCLA to serve as Aaron Rodgers protégé. After three rocky years with the Packers, Hundley moved to Seattle last season, where he backed up Russell Wilson. He knows a good quarterback when he sees one, and he sees one in Murray.

"You've got a lot of pressure on you as the No. 1 pick, as a quarterback for the team that was the worst in the league last year," he said. "To come in and say 'I'm going to help this team win games,' when you're not expected to? That's a really hard task. Everybody puts pressure on him. That's a lot, especially for a young cat. But nothing seems like it fazes him."

Hundley said Murray has been humble in his approach, and “very teachable.”

“Even after bad days, he'd come in the next day and do his thing,” Hundley said. “He's very consistent. It took me years to get to that point, to feel that. To see him come in and be able to handle this? The NFL is hard for everybody, but he isn't showing that."

There are steps, though, and Murray must take a big one soon.

With Cam Newton and the Carolina Panthers and Wilson and the Seahawks coming to Arizona the next two weeks, Murray's first win might not come until Week 5 at Cincinnati, or perhaps two weeks later at the New York Giants.

Salvaging a tie in Week 1 was nice. Standing firm against a solid Ravens squad was a positive.

In two games, Murray has passed for 657 yards, the second most for a player in his first two starts. Newton holds the record, set in 2011. But with eight sacks taken and just 17 rushing yards on six carries, Murray hasn’t yet shown the dual-threat versatility that scouts raved about.

It’ll come, that seems to be sure. And so will a win. Soon, he hopes.

For now, it’s a good start.

“I’m not where I want to be five years from now,” Murray said. “But as far as being comfortable, I feel pretty good right now.”

Jon Gold is an award-winning features writer and columnist with more than a decade of full-time beat, features and columnist experience. He has hosted television and radio shows, podcasts and YouTube videos.

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