Cardinals are 2-2 since Kyler Murray's return, giving hope that rebound is coming in '24

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TEMPE, Ariz. (AP) — Quarterback Kyler Murray is getting more comfortable in his return from a serious knee injury, tight end Trey McBride could be a future star and, suddenly, the Arizona Cardinals look like a halfway decent team.

That's not the end goal, but it's certainly a start.

The Cardinals (3-10) entered their bye week in a good mood after an impressive 24-10 win at Pittsburgh on Sunday. It was a strange day — featuring two weather delays — but the Cardinals kept their poise and played arguably their best game of the season.

The highlight came in the second half, when Arizona's defense made a goal-line stand and then the offense took over, driving 99 yards in 15 plays for a touchdown that gave the Cardinals a lead they wouldn't relinquish.

“They believe in each other,” coach Jonathan Gannon said. “That’s what we talked about, look to your left, look to your right, don’t let your teammate down, and it showed up all week, and that’s why we gave ourselves a chance to win tonight.”

The Cardinals are 2-2 since Murray returned from an ACL tear in his right knee that kept him out for roughly 11 months. The former No. 1 overall pick is still adjusting to Gannon and offensive coordinator Drew Petzing, but it looks like the fifth-year quarterback can thrive in the new system.

Murray has also established a good relationship with McBride, a second-year player whose production has increased over the past couple months. He caught eight passes for 89 yards and a touchdown against the Steelers.

It's an encouraging sign that while 2023 is already a lost cause, the Cardinals might be significantly more competitive in 2024, particularly with a pair of first-round picks in April's draft.

WHAT’S WORKING

The running game. Conner rushed for 105 yards and two touchdowns. With defenses also concerned about Murray's running ability, the duo could be productive over the Cardinals' last four games.

“He’s such a great player,” Murray said of Conner. “He’s a great leader for this team.”

Conner missed four games in the middle of the season because of a knee injury, but still might reach a career high for rushing yards in a season. He needs 369 yards over the final four games to reach 1,000 for the first time in his career.

WHAT NEEDS HELP

It was a rough game for the Cardinals' receivers, who had just two catches — one each by Greg Dortch and Rondale Moore. Murray's other 11 completions went to tight ends. That's not a recipe for success most weeks.

STOCK UP

LB Josh Woods had 11 tackles, including one for a loss, against the Steelers. His production has been crucial over the past two weeks after the Cardinals lost their leading tackler, Kyzir White, to a biceps injury. The 27-year-old Woods is making the most out of the biggest opportunity of his career. He's played 515 defensive snaps this season, which is more than his first four seasons combined.

“I thought he played extremely well (Sunday)," Gannon said. “I’ve got to watch the tape, but he was violent, physical, got us in the right calls, got us in the right checks, which was huge.”

STOCK DOWN

WR Marquise Brown didn't have a catch against the Steelers, continuing a head-scratching trend since Murray's return. Brown was the team's leader in receiving yards for much of the season, but has just nine catches for 134 yards over the past four games.

INJURIES

For a team that's played 13 games in 13 weeks, the Cardinals are relatively healthy. They hope CB Antonio Hamilton (groin), WR Michael Wilson (shoulder) and OL Elijah Wilkinson (neck) will be ready to return after the bye week.

KEY NUMBER

4 hours, 18 minutes — Thanks to the pair of weather delays, this was the longest game for the Cardinals in the Super Bowl era, which started in 1967.

NEXT STEPS

The Cardinals close the season with a tough four-game stretch that includes a home game against San Francisco and a visit to Philadelphia.

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AP NFL: https://apnews.com/hub/NFL