The Cardinals’ 24-10 win over the Steelers wasn’t one of the five most important games of Week 13. If anyone remembers this game more than a month from now, it probably will be for the two lightning delays that stretched the game out for 4 hours and 18 minutes.
But it’s hard not to be impressed by Cardinals quarterback Kyler Murray, who rejoined a woeful team a month ago and has gone 2-2 as the starter, including a gutsy win Sunday in terrible Pittsburgh weather.
For a guy who took a lot of criticism for being immature, Murray is showing a lot of heart and leadership as he returns from a torn ACL suffered a year ago.
Murray’s inspiring play is where we begin the Week 13 review.
▪ Before this year, Murray was viewed by many as a dynamic but immature kid who preferred video games to film study. This feels strange to say, but tearing an ACL may have been one of the best things to happen to him. It allowed Murray to take some time away, and to demonstrate determination, work ethic, and leadership.
Murray could be dogging it right now; he’s making $39 million this year whether he plays or not, and he has $35 million fully guaranteed next year. His bosses may try to replace him with a younger, cheaper quarterback in next year’s draft.
Instead Murray attacked his rehab and returned to the field a month ago despite the fact that he’s not close to 100 percent and the Cardinals were 1-8. It’s impressive to see him scrambling and throwing his body around and playing as if the Super Bowl is on the line when he has incentive to mail it in.
While his numbers in Sunday’s win didn’t pop — 145 passing yards and 20 rushing yards — Murray fought through the rain and two delays to lead the Cardinals to their first win in Pittsburgh since 1969. The Cardinals went 10 for 17 on third down, including an impressive scramble by Murray on third and 8. And Murray led a 99-yard touchdown drive that went a total of 109 yards because of penalties, converting all five third downs.
The Cardinals currently hold the No. 3 draft pick and must be tempted to select a young, cheaper quarterback. But Murray is showing a lot of heart, and the Cardinals would be better off using that pick on receiver Marvin Harrison Jr. and building around Murray.
▪ The NFC is a three-horse race among the 10-2 Eagles, the 9-3 49ers, and the 9-3 Cowboys. But perhaps we should pay attention to the fact that the 49ers scored blowout wins over the other two — a 42-10 shellacking of Dallas in Week 5, and a 42-19 beatdown of the Eagles Sunday in Philadelphia in which the 49ers scored touchdowns on six straight possessions.
The 49ers also have a 34-3 win at Jacksonville and a 31-13 win at Seattle. Brock Purdy in those four games: 1,071 passing yards, 71 percent completions, 12 TDs, 1 INT, 6 sacks, 0 fumbles, 136.5 passer rating. Doesn’t get any better than that.
The 49ers are still a game behind the Eagles in the standings, but now have the head-to-head advantage for the No. 1 seed. Going back to Philadelphia for the playoffs probably wouldn’t faze them, however.
▪ The NFL has to come down hard on the Eagles for the bizarre scuffle between their security director Dom DiSandro and 49ers linebacker Dre Greenlaw that resulted in both getting ejected from Sunday’s game.
DiSandro is on the sideline for one reason — to keep football personnel safe in case of an attack from the public. Even though it was Greenlaw who threw somewhat of a punch, DiSandro had no business interjecting himself into the fight, including verbal taunts toward Greenlaw that “was contributing to that escalation,” NFL director of officiating Walt Anderson said.
And while both Greenlaw and DiSandro were ejected, it’s not an equal punishment; only one of them plays in the game.
If the NFL doesn’t come down hard on DiSandro, what’s to stop other non-uniformed personnel from taunting opponents and trying to get them ejected? Anything less than a suspension for the rest of the season for DiSandro, and a fine for the Eagles organization, would send a terrible message.
▪ We may have been too quick to declare the Chiefs fixed all of their problems after one win over the lousy Raiders. The offense still looked pretty broken in Sunday night’s 27-19 loss at Green Bay, with the Chiefs going 2 for 4 in the red zone and Patrick Mahomes throwing another fourth-quarter interception. The Chiefs haven’t cracked 400 yards in five straight games.
▪ Three straight wins over the Chargers, Lions, and Chiefs have the Packers at 6-6 and looking dangerous. The lightbulb has finally clicked for Jordan Love, who has eight touchdown passes and no turnovers during the three-game streak. The Packers overtook the Rams and Seahawks for the No. 7 playoff seed, and have a cupcake closing schedule that includes the Giants, Buccaneers, Panthers, and Bears.
▪ Russell Wilson’s ball security was a big reason for the Broncos’ recent five-game win streak, as he went 118 passes over nearly six full games without throwing an interception. But the wheels fell off in Sunday’s 22-17 loss to the Texans, with Wilson throwing one pick at the end of the third quarter and two at the end of the fourth. Wilson isn’t a dynamic downfield passer anymore, and the Broncos are 0-4 this year when he throws an interception.
▪ The Lions beat the Saints to improve to 9-3, but they can’t be thrilled that a 24-7 halftime lead turned into a 33-28 nail-biter. Their defense isn’t going to be able to stop the 49ers, Cowboys, or Eagles come postseason.
▪ Quite a thriller in Nashville, with the Colts blocking two punts in a 31-28 overtime win and the Titans intercepting a 2-point conversion attempt and returning it the other way for 2. Per the NFL, it marked the 12th defensive score on a 2-point conversion since the rule was amended in 2015.
▪ Raise your hand if you had the Colts at 7-5, in the No. 7 playoff seed and with the No. 8 scoring offense with Gardner Minshew starting the majority of the season. Rookie coach Shane Steichen is making a strong case for Coach of the Year.
▪ Speaking of unexpected, the AFC South was supposed to be terrible but has three teams over .500 — the 8-3 Jaguars (before Monday’s game), 7-5 Colts, and 7-5 Texans. Meanwhile, the AFC East was supposed to have four playoff contenders, but the 2-10 Patriots, 4-8 Jets, and 6-6 Bills are three of the biggest disappointments in the NFL.
▪ The Dolphins have scored 47 offensive touchdowns. The Patriots have scored 16.
▪ Start stitching Mike Evans’s gold Hall of Fame jacket. He became the first receiver in history to have 60 catches and to have 1,000 yards in each of his first 10 seasons. Incredible consistency.
▪ The 6 points scored in Patriots-Chargers tied for the 10th-lowest total since 1950, per Pro Football Reference. In 74 seasons, there have been seven 3-0 games, two 5-0 games, and 16 games of 6-0.
▪ The fact that Tyreek Hill went for 157 yards, with touchdowns of 78 and 60 yards, is simply mind-blowing when considering that everyone in the stadium knows he’s getting the ball. Hill’s 1,481 yards are the most through 12 games in the Super Bowl era, and he’s making a legitimate case to be the first receiver to win MVP.
▪ Nick Folk hit another big field goal, connecting from 46 yards in overtime of the Titans’ loss. But his missed extra point with 5:26 left in the fourth quarter was a big reason the Titans went to overtime.
Ben Volin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.