Kyler Murray, Cardinals refuse to 'lay down,' upset Eagles

ByJosh Weinfuss ESPN logo
Monday, January 1, 2024

PHILADELPHIA -- All week, Arizona Cardinals coach Jonathan Gannon tried to downplay his return to Philadelphia, a place he's been vilified since the Eagles blew a 10-point lead in the Super Bowl last season when Gannon was their defensive coordinator.

On Sunday, Gannon had the last laugh.

The Cardinals, who closed as 12.5-point underdogs, upset the Eagles 35-31 at Lincoln Financial Field behind as impressive of an offensive performance by Arizona as it's had in this four-win season.

After not being able to find the end zone in the first half, the Cardinals scored on all four of their second-half possessions, outscoring the Eagles 29-10 in the final two quarters.

"I'm happy for the players," Gannon said. "Honestly, obviously the year has been a tough year. We didn't do enough to earn the right to play in January [in the playoffs]. So, I was really proud of them down 21-6 versus a good team.

"You could lay down there and get beat by 30. Guys did not do that. So really just happy for the guys how they responded all week and a good win down the road versus a good football team."

A surprising decision to call an onside kick after Arizona tied it at 28 with 5:30 left in the fourth quarter turned out to work in the Cardinals' favor.

Gannon, who expected the Eagles to be aggressive and go for a touchdown, didn't want Philadelphia to have a chance to run out the clock, which is exactly what the Eagles tried to do with the short field. However, after starting at Arizona's 39, they gained just 14 yards and, to a chorus of boos, kicked a field goal to take a 31-28 lead with 2:37 left.

Then Murray continued to do what he had been doing all second half: March the Cardinals to the end zone.

At the 2-minute warning, Gannon told his star quarterback to "go win it." Murray said he didn't need the extra motivation, but he listened. Gannon was so confident that he got on his headset and presciently told the other coaches listening that the Cardinals would end up winning.

Arizona marched 70 yards as running back James Conner capped the game-winning drive with a 2-yard touchdown run.

"We executed and we did our thing and it's good," Murray said. "It's good to feel that. Obviously with everything that's happened, a lot of disappointment this year, a lot of tough losses. But trying to finish the season off the right way."

For the first time all season, Gannon gave the Cardinals a "Victory Monday" -- a day off -- to ring in the New Year.

The drive capped an impressive second half for the Cardinals. After receiving the second-half kick, they went on an offensive tear, scoring touchdowns on all four of their possessions. Murray was nearly perfect in the second half, completing 13-of-14 passes with two touchdowns. He finished with 232 yards, three TDs and an interception on 25-of-31 passing for a passer rating of 116.7.

"Phenomenal," rookie wide receiver Michael Wilson said of Murray. "Kyler that we all love."

Added tight end Trey McBride: "He's a monster. He's awesome. There's not many guys that can not practice all week and go out and play a game and do what he did. So, I got a lot of respect for him. He's a heck of a player."

Since he's returned from ACL surgery, Murray has led the Cardinals to a 3-4 record. Sunday's game was his most complete performance of his short season, but he downplayed the idea that he's finally back to his old self.

"No, I wouldn't say, 'Oh, it's just ...'" Murray said, trailing off. "It's just being a form. Whatever that peak level for whoever the individual is. Like, today was -- I think we would've played with anybody."

Conner rushed for 128 yards and a touchdown, and he had a one-handed touchdown catch as well. He set career highs in first-half carries and yards on Sunday.

"Kyler was lights out today. James Conner was lights out," Gannon said. "The [offensive] line, that's a really good front. We ran it up and down the field."

Arizona's second half was a vast difference from its first. Before they went on to pull off their fifth-biggest road upset of the Super Bowl era, according to ESPN Stats and Information, the Cardinals stalled in the red zone twice in the first two quarters, settling for Matt Prater field goals of 28 and 34 yards. They trailed 21-6 at halftime after Murray threw an interception on a miscommunication with Wilson that Eagles safety Sydney Brown returned 99 yards. Then the second half started.

"I just think it was just getting in a groove," Murray said. "... Just being in the moment focusing on that play, understanding the concepts and what we're trying to accomplish and execute. Not worrying about anything before or after. Letting it go."

Stoic and stone-faced at the podium after the game, Gannon again tried to downplay his return, but players said all week that the coach had talked about this game to the team behind closed doors. And the Cardinals could tell it meant something to the 40-year-old Gannon.

"I know he wanted to win it really badly," Murray said. "... I would want to win it, so I know the guys felt that energy from him, that we wanted to come out here and do it for him."

Eagles quarterback Jalen Hurts felt like Gannon's history with the Eagles helped him Sunday afternoon.

"Absolutely," Hurts said. "He sat there in those meetings with us. He's been in those meetings. He's heard kind of what we're thinking in certain situations and we practiced against them every day for the last two years."

The first person to greet Gannon on the field before the game was Eagles general manager Howie Roseman. The two embraced, and then had a conversation. Then Gannon embraced Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie and they chatted, before Gannon did the same thing with Eagles coach Nick Sirianni.

After the game, a handful of Eagles players lined up to greet the former assistant.

"This place was awesome for me," Gannon said. "Working for Nick and the Philadelphia Eagles, you guys know I loved it here. That's the reason I'm sitting at the podium right now ... that organization and Mr. Lurie and Howie and Nick. It was great to see them ... and I'm always pulling for him, but not today."