By Kyle Kersey
Overtime. 1:10 on the clock. Fourth and seven on your opponent’s 47 yard line. You’re currently rostering the supposed “next big thing” as your quarterback (irony intentional), and he’s led you back from down 18 in the fourth quarter. The question at hand: do you go for it?
It’s been a running joke in NFL circles all offseason: the Arizona Cardinals, tired of losing to the Los Angeles Rams, are now trying to copy them with their latest head coaching hire, Kliff Kingsbury. He sports the handsome good looks and youthful charm of the Rams’ very own Sean McVay, as well as exciting offensive ideas in a league that’s been trending towards the offensive side of the ball for the last 30 years or so.
But McVay had NFL coaching experience when he was hired by the Rams at the ripe old age of 30 years old, working under greatly respected offensive minds like Mike Shanahan and Jay Gruden during his tenure with the Washington Redskins.
Kingsbury, on the other hand, has only college coaching experience, working under the tutelage of Kevin Sumlin at Houston and Texas A&M (and now the head coach of the Arizona Wildcats mind you). Hardly considered a preeminent offensive genius, but Sumlin’s teams and Kingsbury’s coaching produced some great college quarterbacks, like the record-setting Case Keenum or the Heisman winning Johnny Manziel. When he was hired at Texas Tech, he continued to produce great quarterbacks like Patrick Mahomes and Baker Mayfield.
No doubt the man has an eye for quarterback talent, but his record as a head coach is less than sterling. During his six year tenure with Texas Tech, Kingsbury only produced two winning seasons, ending his tenure with a sub .500 record at 35-40. Kingsbury as an NFL Offensive Coordinator would’ve seemed like a reach. Kingsbury as an NFL head coach was sheer madness.
The Arizona Cardinals continued to test the conventions of football when they drafted Kyler Murray first over, standing at just five feet, nine inches tall and picked just a year after the Cards had invested a first round pick in UCLA precision pocket-passer Josh Rosen. All this came on the heels of a disastrous 3-13 season, the firing of a first year head coach and a DUI arrest for General Manager Steve Keim the offseason prior. Fair or not, the narrative set itself; the Arizona Cardinals had become a dumpster fire of a football franchise, more concerned with selling tickets than winning games.
For the first three quarters of Sunday’s game against the Detroit Lions, the team’s horrid play seemed to cement these sentiments. But a fourth quarter rally, including some clutch throws from Murray, energized the so-far lukewarm crowd and brought the game into overtime, where the Cardinals and the Lions traded field goals on their first possessions. Now, with 1:10 left and fourth down staring them in the face, Kingsbury had a decision to make: trust Murray and go for the win while risking a loss, or punt and play for a tie.
He punted. Lest we forget the Cardinals are not a popular playoff pick; it’s incredibly unlikely that this game will have any playoff implications for them. The punt resulted in said tie after cornerback Tremaine Brock let an interception fly right through his hands, the team’s last chance at victory. It was the anti-climax to end all anti-climaxes; Kyler Murray’s brilliant comeback attempt ends in a tie.
I can’t help but think back to last year, when McVay’s Rams clinging to a 33-30 lead on the road against an overachieving Seattle Seahawks. McVay faced fourth and one at his own 43 yard line with 1:39 left in the game. A first down would end it, but a Seattle stop would give the Seahawks great field position and almost certain victory. He could always go safe and punt, which would give the Seahawks a chance with the ball but with worse field position.
McVay opted to give the ball to his star running back, Todd Gurley. He converted, and the Rams won a pivotal division game on the road. It’s a move that took stones. Had Gurley failed to pick up the first down, the media would have almost certainly lambasted the second year coach. But he trusted his team to get the job done. It leaves me to wonder whether Kingsbury is the risk-taking offensive mind the Cardinals have tried to sell us, or simply a milquetoast Walmart knockoff of Sean McVay. Only time will tell.