Rookie quarterback Kyler Murray played like a veteran in his last appearance of the preseason, and he sounded like one after the game.
Murray wanted to get sharp for the Arizona Cardinals' season opener at home against the Detroit Lions, but staying healthy was important.
It was mission accomplished on both fronts in a 20-9 road loss to the Vikings in Game 3. Murray completed 14 of 21 passes for 137 yards without a touchdown or an interception. He played 36 snaps, his longest string of the preseason, and did not play in the final preseason game.
"I feel good," Murray told reporters. "I feel more comfortable – probably the most comfortable I've felt all preseason. That's just due to reps – live game reps. I enjoy getting to play as much as we did today. It's the closest thing to the real thing. I'm kind of happy how it went."
The talented rookie is the focus of the Lions' Week 1 opponent because of the hype and hope he brings to the Cardinals' rebuilding effort. There are other issues – a new head coach in Kliff Kingsbury, expected improvement in an offense that was the league's worst in 2018, and key players added to a defense that has to overcome key losses.
1. Kyler Murray: Murray added a badly needed jolt of energy since being drafted first overall out of Oklahoma, where he won the 2018 Heisman Trophy with spectacular stats: 42 TD passes against only seven interceptions; 1,001 yards and with 12 TDs.
Only 5-10 and 207 pounds, his speed and quick decision making can break down a defense when he gets in the open field.
Murray ran four times for nine yards against the Vikings and did not take any undo chances.
"Just being smart," he said. "If I can get more, I get more. If I can't, there's no point in taking a hit."
2. Head coach: The Cardinals are rolling threes in the shuffle of head coaches and quarterbacks. Murray is the third opening-game starter in three years, and Kingsbury is the third head coach – after Bruce Arians and Steve Wilks.
Kingsbury is regarded as an offensive innovator, based largely on his college background. He has no NFL coaching experience and played briefly in one NFL game as a journeyman backup QB.
He was hired to fix the offense, which won't take much. The Cardinals hit the grand slam of offensive ineptitude in 2018, finishing last in points (14.1) and yards per game (241.6), and in total yards rushing (1,342) and passing (2,523).
Kingsbury has mixed reviews for his six seasons as head coach at Texas Tech. Although Kingsbury's Red Raiders offense produced yards, his won-loss record for six years was 35-40. He had losing records the last three years – 5-7, 6-7 and 5-7.
Meet this week's opponent, the Arizona Cardinals.
3. Offense, veterans: Murray has veteran support from wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald and running back David Johnson.
Fitzgerald, who turned 36 on Aug. 31, had 69 catches in 2018, second fewest of his career to 58 as a rookie in 2004. He's still a sure-handed target in season 16, but no longer an explosive playmaker.
Johnson rebounded last year after going out for the season in 2017 with a wrist injury sustained in the opening game against the Lions. He's a dual threat, rushing and receiving.
4. Defense, added Sizzle: Additions through free agency of inside linebacker Jordan Hicks and pass rush star Terrell Suggs should help a defense that ranked fourth against the pass, fifth with 49 sacks – and last against the run.
Suggs – known as T-Sizzle from his days with the Ravens where he managed seven sacks last year in his 16th season – can still bring heat off the edge.
The Cardinals will be missing their two starting cornerbacks. Patrick Peterson was suspended by the NFL for violating the league's policy on performance enhancing drugs, and Robert Alford is on injured reserve with a broken leg.