Murray found DeAndre Hopkins for a 43-yard Hail Mary touchdown with two seconds left to give the Cardinals a 32-30 win over the Buffalo Bills at State Farm Stadium on Sunday and move them into a three-way tie for first place in the NFC West.
“I want to say I knew when it left my hand it had a chance just because [when] you play quarterback, you can tell the trajectory, the touch of the ball,” Murray said. “But, I think I was looking at the sideline when everybody … I just got the reaction from everybody. I don’t think I saw him catch the ball. I really don’t remember — it happened so fast. But, I knew once it left my hand, it had a good chance.”
Hopkins, who had 127 yards and a touchdown on seven catches, called it the best catch of his eight-year career.
“This one is No. 1,” Hopkins said. “It was to win the game, no question, against a playoff opponent.”
Hopkins was draped by three Bills defenders — Jordan Poyer, Micah Hyde and Tre’Davious White — when he pulled down the unlikely catch on the far left side of the end zone in front of 4,200 socially distanced fans. He had 0.54 yards of separation on the catch, the least amount of yards of separation on any of Murray’s NFL touchdown passes, according to ESPN Stats & Information research.
The play was also Murray’s first career successful Hail Mary.
Hopkins said he saw Murray scrambling as the play began to unfold with 11 seconds left in the game and felt like Murray was going to give one of the Cardinals’ taller players a chance in the end zone. The play was designed for Murray to roll left, the quarterback said. He saw a Bills defender in contain and knew if he could get away from him, then Murray could make a play.
As the play unfolded, Cardinals coach Kliff Kingsbury didn’t think Murray would get the throw off.
“Just to get the pass off was incredible,” Kingsbury said. “If you watch the replay, he’s running and dodging and ducking, and I didn’t think he’d get it off.”
As Murray looked downfield, he said he saw one player: Hopkins. And in his mind, Murray just wanted to give Hopkins a shot at making the play.
“It’s funny,” Murray said, “everybody, all they saw was black gloves arising from everybody. There was like, what, a group of four people and all they saw was black gloves. I’m just glad he caught the ball.”
Kingsbury, a former quarterback himself, was impressed with the actual throw from Murray, specifically the loft of the pass. Kingsbury couldn’t see the catch from where he stood on the sideline, but when Hopkins came down with it, Kingsbury saw the crowd’s reaction and heard his assistants in the coaching box above the field “going nuts.”
“It has to be the biggest one of his career, maybe?” Kingsbury said. “I don’t know. He’s phenomenal. You know, I went out of that game last week regretting we didn’t get it to him in crunch time or try to get it to [him in] crunch time. We had a good talk this week. And I’ve never been a part of one of those so still kind of at a loss for words, but what a phenomenal play.”
Hopkins said he tries not to panic when the ball is in the air. He said he focused on being calm as he went up, believing he could jump higher than the defensive backs who were defending him. And he also felt if he could get his hands on the ball and then get a good enough grip on it, it wouldn’t be able to be ripped out.
“In basketball terminology, that’s what they call this [Hopkins tapped his head], somebody get dunked on,” he said. “It was on three people. Yeah. Yeah, they were in position. It was just a better catch by I.”
After betting support for the Cardinals drove the line up over the weekend, Arizona closed as a consensus three-point favorite at sportsbooks. Hopkins’ touchdown put the Cardinals up by two with no time left. Instead of risking the extra point being blocked and returned by Buffalo for a tying 2-point conversion, Arizona elected to kneel down and end the game.
The favored Cardinals attracted slightly more betting action than the Bills at most sportsbooks. Murray finished with 245 yards, a touchdown and an interception on 22-for-32 passing. For the second straight week, Murray did what he could to put the Cardinals in a spot to win.
As the Cardinals struggled to convert in the red zone Sunday afternoon by throwing the ball, leading to a field goal fest in the first 2½ quarters, Murray found the end zone with 5 minutes, 48 seconds left in the third quarter on a 1-yard run to cut Buffalo’s lead to 23-16.
Following a Patrick Peterson interception, Murray’s brilliance on the ground was on display again in the final seconds of the third quarter, when he took off for 28 yards to move the Cardinals deep into Bills territory.
Three plays later, Murray ran in barely untouched for his second touchdown, this one from the 15, giving the Cardinals their first lead of the game.
However, the Cardinals had a chance to seal the game and avoid the highlight-reel play at the end but couldn’t.
After Cardinals cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick intercepted Allen with 4:38 left in the game and Arizona clinging to a 26-23 lead, Kingsbury called three straight pass plays instead of running out the clock. The first two were incomplete, which stopped the clock, and Murray was sacked on the third-down call, which kept the clock running until Arizona punted the ball back to Buffalo. The Bills used the ensuing possession to score the go-ahead touchdown on a 21-yard pass from Allen to a diving Diggs, putting the Bills up 30-26.
Kingsbury later said the throws were by design with the intention to get Hopkins the ball in single coverage.
But it nearly cost the Cardinals.
Murray’s two rushing touchdowns gave him 10 for the season, the first time a quarterback has reached that mark since Cam Newton in 2011. Murray had 61 rushing yards and two touchdowns on 11 carries.
Murray also became the fourth quarterback in NFL history to have a rushing touchdown in at least five straight games. He has rushed for a touchdown in eight of the Cardinals’ nine games this season.
Arizona running back Kenyan Drake ran for 100 yards on 16 carries.
Asked if the game seemed like it was on an illicit substance toward the end as the teams traded scores, Kingsbury agreed.
“Yeah, that’s kind of how I feel. A good way to describe it,” Kingsbury said. “Felt like it was some back-and-forth. Both teams kind of sputtering at times, not putting it in the end zone. And then it went crazy at the end. And it’s just nice to come on top on our game that goes that way.”
Sunday’s win gave the Cardinals’ confidence a boost at just the right time, Kingsbury said. Although he said being in a tie for first place in mid-November “doesn’t mean anything,” he previewed Thursday night’s game at the Seattle Seahawks as a “dogfight.” Kingsbury said the Cardinals would enjoy the win for the rest of Sunday night before focusing on Seattle on Monday morning.
“It’ll come fast,” Kingsbury said. “But our guys like playing when the spotlight is on us, and I’m excited about Thursday night.”
ESPN’s David Purdum contributed to this report.