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It was one play among hundreds in the Arizona Cardinals season, but it said a lot.
It's the kind of play that only Kyler Murray (and maybe — maybe — Lamar Jackson) could make.
The Cardinals had a third-and-16 in Rams territory. The Cardinals led 14-10. Murray dropped back and there was nothing open downfield. The Rams are too well-coached to give up anything easy on third-and-16 that deep in their own territory. So Murray, even with five defenders rushing to keep him contained, simply got outside with a shifty move, beat two defenders to the corner with his speed, and got 18 yards and a first down.
This is why Kyler Murray is the MVP favorite and this is why the Cardinals have taken the title, for the moment, of the best team in the NFL:
— Bo Brack (@BoBrack) October 4, 2021
That is far from a routine play. Murray just made it look easy, improvising when the Rams cut off every other option. Two plays later, the Cardinals scored a touchdown. They never led by fewer than eight points after that.
When you have a talent like Murray, it can take a good team to greatness. Murray does have talent around him too. But he can take the Cardinals to another level, making plays out of nothing at crucial points in the game, just like he did on that third down against the Rams.
It will take a while to wrap our heads around the Cardinals as Super Bowl contenders. It's not like they were considered an elite team before the season. But two of their wins were a road demolition of the Tennessee Titans and a dominant win at the Los Angeles Rams, who everyone spent last week hyping as a Super Bowl favorite. Even when they played their C game against the Jaguars, they won by 12.
We saw the Cardinals play at a high level last season too. They were 6-3 after a Hail Mary win over the Buffalo Bills last season. Murray was playing as well as anyone. Then Murray's play fell off when he hurt his shoulder, and the Cardinals followed. They missed the playoffs and everyone forgot that their best is very good. They were mostly picked to finish in last place of the NFC West this season.
Perhaps this start is a mirage. It's just four games in a long season. Murray is always going to be in danger of getting injured or worn down due to his size and style of play. There should still be skepticism over Kliff Kingsbury's ability to keep this up. It's worth keeping in mind that if the Vikings hit a short field goal or the lowly Jaguars hold a halftime lead, we're having a much different conversation about the Cardinals.
But this is also the truth: Four games into the NFL season, the Cardinals deserve the top spot in the power rankings and Kyler Murray is the first-month MVP, whatever that means. And maybe we shouldn't be too surprised if they hold those spots all season.
Here are the power rankings following Week 4 of the NFL season:
32. Jacksonville Jaguars (0-4, Last week: 32)
We could be talking about how the Jaguars showed some life on Thursday night, even in a loss. How Trevor Lawrence looked more comfortable than he had in his first three games. But, instead, we're talking about Urban Meyer's video.
31. Houston Texans (1-3, LW: 30)
After a few weeks of being competitive, a 40-0 loss to the Bills had to be disheartening. Rookie quarterback Davis Mills had a rough day, to say the least. Houston had -23 net passing yards at halftime. It'll a long wait until Dec. 19, when they get to beat the Jaguars again.
30. Detroit Lions (0-4, LW: 28)
At least the Lions are getting something out of their unheralded receivers. Quintez Cephus had 83 yards, Amon-Ra St. Brown had 70 yards and Kalif Raymond had two touchdowns. Sunday wasn't a positive day, and it'll be a rough season, but Detroit has to take its small wins when it can.
29. New York Jets (1-3, LW: 31)
The Titans couldn't take advantage of the Jets' main weakness, the offensive line. Tennessee can't rush the quarterback. And we saw Zach Wilson play well when he wasn't on his back the whole game. It's a sign that when the Jets fix their offensive line, Wilson should thrive.
28. Atlanta Falcons (1-3, LW: 27)
The Cordarrelle Patterson breakout is pretty wild. I still wonder, however, why the Falcons are relying more heavily on him than Calvin Ridley or Kyle Pitts. It seems odd.
27. Philadelphia Eagles (1-3, LW: 24)
The Eagles' offensive day probably said more about the Chiefs' defense, but 387 passing yards from Jalen Hurts and 122 receiving yards from DeVonta Smith is a positive. The Eagles aren't a good team, particularly on defense, but their young offensive stars could be fun to watch.
26. New York Giants (1-3, LW: 29)
Was Sunday a turning point for Daniel Jones? Without top receivers Sterling Shepard and Darius Slayton, against a Saints defense that totally shut down Aaron Rodgers, Jones threw for 402 yards and two touchdowns. He has had some moments this season. He just needs to string a few good performances together.
25. Miami Dolphins (1-3, LW: 21)
The Dolphins offense has been bad. Considering they lost their quarterback, it shouldn't be a big surprise. The defense hasn't been good, and that is a surprise. The Colts did whatever they wanted on Sunday. The Dolphins aren't turning things around unless the defense is much better going forward.
24. Chicago Bears (2-2, LW: 26)
The insistence that Andy Dalton must start is weird. Justin Fields showed progress on Sunday in a win. What's the point in turning back to Dalton now?
23. Minnesota Vikings (1-3, LW: 22)
The moments after a 14-7 loss, which dropped Minnesota to 1-3, probably wasn't the best time to put a positive spin on things. “I’ve been doing this (for) 27 years,” Vikings coach Mike Zimmer said, via the Pioneer Press. “I know good teams and I know bad teams, and I know that this team has a chance to be pretty darn good.” The Vikings have had three very close losses so maybe Zimmer isn't that far off, but fans want to see some better bottom-line results.
22. Indianapolis Colts (1-3, LW: 25)
The Colts had to feel surprisingly good after Week 4. They had a horrendous August. They've dealt with plenty of injuries and lost their first three games, including two home games and a matchup against the Titans. But they woke up Monday one game behind Tennessee thanks to a win at Miami and the Titans blowing a game against the Jets. Given the circumstances, that's not too bad.
21. Pittsburgh Steelers (1-3, LW: 20)
It's a broken record to talk about the Steelers' offense. The line is bad, Ben Roethlisberger is missing throws on the rare occasions he goes downfield, there's no running game to speak of and the receivers are being wasted. It's a season going south fast. How did they ever win at Buffalo?
20. Washington Football Team (2-2, LW: 23)
I don't think Washington can go back to Ryan Fitzpatrick. Taylor Heinicke isn't perfect but he makes plays. He had 290 yards, three touchdowns and a 127.1 passer rating in Sunday's dramatic win. The offense has done OK with him. WFT just needs the defense to do something.
19. New England Patriots (1-3, LW: 18)
Mac Jones played well, and that was a positive. He was efficient and gave his team a chance to beat a very good Buccaneers team. The Patriots need more explosive plays out of him, which is why they rank 27th in points and 26th in yards. But it will take time, and Jones' first steps are promising.
18. Tennessee Titans (2-2, LW: 16)
It's easy to rip the Titans for losing to the Jets, but they were without two of their three players. Both of them, A.J. Brown and Julio Jones, play the same position. It's still a bad loss, but it's not one that tells us much about the Titans. Other than they aren't great when they're without two of their three best guys.
17. Cincinnati Bengals (3-1, LW: 19)
Not all wins will be pretty and last Thursday night's was pretty uninspiring. But it was a win, and those haven't been plentiful in Cincinnati recently. Maybe they should have beaten a bad Jacksonville team more soundly, but give a young team credit for finding a way to come back and win.
16. Seattle Seahawks (2-2, LW: 17)
We're used to Russell Wilson doing the impossible, but his touchdown pass to Freddie Swaim on Sunday shouldn't go unnoticed. He spun away from a sure sack, immediately had the presence of mind to keep his eyes downfield to where Swaim was, and squeezed in a pass that wasn't exactly automatic. Watch other quarterbacks on similar plays and see how many can not only elude the rush but keep their poise to immediately find a big play downfield. There aren't many.
— NFL (@NFL) October 3, 2021
15. Carolina Panthers (3-1, LW: 14)
The Panthers didn't have Christian McCaffrey and still competed with a good Cowboys team until Trevon Diggs picked off passes on consecutive possessions. The Panthers were never going to be a great team this season, but they're still on track to be very good. A Week 4 loss doesn't change that.
14. Denver Broncos (3-1, LW: 10)
It's a bit troubling that the Broncos are so mad at the Ravens for trying to get 100 yards rushing on a meaningless play at the end. Why weren't they that mad about getting blown out for the first 59:57 of that game? It's a weird thing to be that fired up about. It's the type of things losing organizations care too much about.
13. New Orleans Saints (2-2, LW: 6)
The Saints were perhaps the NFL's best team in Week 1 and the league's worst team in Week 2. They got a really nice and decisive road win at New England in Week 3 and then got shredded by the Giants at home in Week 4. There's no rhyme or reason to that pattern. Their offense will be limited to what Alvin Kamara's talent and Sean Payton's play-calling can do. But the defense can't give up more than 400 yards passing to Daniel Jones, who was without two top receivers.
12. San Francisco 49ers (2-2, LW: 8)
Assuming Jimmy Garoppolo does miss a couple games due to a calf injury, Kyle Shanahan can build game plans around Lance's talent and give him all week in practice to get ready. Don't worry about what happens with the 49ers' quarterback situation when Garoppolo is healthy; we should have a clear picture by then if Lance is ready to take the reins or not.
11. Las Vegas Raiders (3-1, LW: 5)
The Raiders weren't going undefeated. Their comeback in the second half said a lot about them, as did how the cornerbacks battled the Chargers' receivers all night. The Raiders are still going to be pretty good, the Chargers might just be better.
10. Baltimore Ravens (3-1, LW: 12)
Week 4 was promising because the Ravens beat a 3-0 Broncos team decisively, and did so with the kind of passing game they need to maintain. Five different players had more than 30 yards receiving as Lamar Jackson finished with 316 yards against a very good secondary. That's the Ravens team that can still win a tough division.
9. Los Angeles Chargers (3-1, LW: 13)
The Chargers have played Washington, the Cowboys, Chiefs and Raiders. All four of those teams have either been great on offense or shown some flashes. All four of those teams had their worst offensive game this season against Brandon Staley's defense. The Chargers might have hired a good one.
8. Cleveland Browns (3-1, LW: 11)
Baker Mayfield was hard on himself after Sunday's game, when he was misfiring to everyone. "I pride myself on being extremely accurate," Mayfield said. "And today, I don't know what the hell that was." The beauty of this Browns team is it doesn't need a great day from Mayfield to win. The defense has come a long way from last season.
7. Dallas Cowboys (3-1, LW: 15)
Yeah, it's time to move the Cowboys way up after being a little stubborn on them. Young players like Trevon Diggs and Micah Parsons have made a big difference to the defense. I have no idea how you slow down the offense when Ezekiel Elliott and Tony Pollard are running it this well. This is a really good team.
6. Kansas City Chiefs (2-2, LW: 9)
Nobody on the Chiefs aside from Tyreek Hill had more than 23 yards receiving. Patrick Mahomes still had a big day as the Chiefs rolled up 42 points. You'd like the Chiefs to have more options, but Hill and Travis Kelce are so hard to defend that it usually doesn't matter. What might matter is a defense that has been bad so far this season. It's not a good time for them to be facing a hot Buffalo offense in Week 5.
5. Green Bay Packers (3-1, LW: 7)
Randall Cobb led the Packers with 69 yards and two touchdowns. There were a lot of jokes made when Aaron Rodgers nudged the Packers trade for Cobb. While Week 4 was probably the outlier in Cobb's age-31 season, Rodgers was probably right that Cobb can be a usable receiver this season.
4. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (3-1, LW: 2)
The Buccaneers were the healthiest team in the NFL, by far, last season. That usually doesn't repeat. Rob Gronkowski's absence mattered on Sunday night. The multiple injuries to cornerback will be a big challenge for the defense. The Buccaneers keep winning, but the injuries are piling up. Tampa Bay didn't have to deal with that last season.
3. Los Angeles Rams (3-1, LW: 1)
I have a tough time buying there was an emotional letdown after beating the Buccaneers, since the Cardinals were undefeated and a division rival. I think the Rams just got outplayed by a hot Cardinals team. That happens. It's not like the defense was exposed. Most opponents won't have Kyler Murray. The only real lingering effect from this game was that in a tight NFC West, the Rams lost a home divisional game and that could be a big factor when it comes to tiebreakers.
2. Buffalo Bills (3-1, LW: 4)
If we remove Week 1, the Bills would be No. 1 without much question. They've been really impressive in three straight blowouts. Their depth of talent on offense and defense gives them a shot to win a Super Bowl. Buffalo will have to beat teams better than the Texans, but that test comes up this week at Kansas City.
1. Arizona Cardinals (4-0, LW: 3)
Lost in the Kyler Murray hoopla is that the defense has given two A+ performances, against the Titans and Rams. Consistency for the defense will be the key going forward, but it's more important at this stage to show it has a top gear.