As soon as Murray gathered the pass from Drew Brees in his hands in the right flat, he knew this might finally be the one.
Brees spied something exploitable in the Arizona Cardinals defense. So before running the play, the Saints quarterback took a pair of tweezers to Murray’s pass route, adjusting it slightly.
Murray did the rest, tightroping the Arizona sideline for a 15-yard touchdown reception, a highlight of the Saints’ 31-9 victory over the Cardinals. Amazingly, it was the first career receiving touchdown for the seventh-year running back out of UCF.
“College,” Murray said when asked about his last touchdown catch. “A long time.
“I knew when I caught it. I thought, ‘This is going to be it.’ I told Drew right after, ‘You know, this is my first-ever?’ He said, ‘No way.’
“Seven years. It’s kind of sad. But hey, today it got done.”
Afterward Brees, back after five games as a highly-paid spectator, got a game ball for his celebrated return to action.
But that particular ball, Brees said, should go to Murray.
“It’s all his,” Brees said. “He earned it.”
There has been Mardi Gras floats full of well-deserved praise rolling quarterback Teddy Bridgewater’s way for how he piloted the Saints to a 5-0 record while Brees was sidelined with his thumb injury. In the typically merciless world of the NFL, it was heartwarming to see Bridgewater lead the Saints to a late touchdown as fans in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome chanted his name.
But save some accolades for Murray, who for the second straight week hasn’t just filled the space left by fellow running back Alvin Kamara after his ankle injury. He was a big reason why the Saints again came up a big winner.
Murray was magnificent in last Sunday’s 36-25 win at Chicago, rushing 27 times for 119 yards and two touchdowns and catching five passes for 31 more. He was just as good against the Cardinals, rushing 21 times for 102 yards and a score with nine catches for 55 yards and that NFL touchdown reception No. 1.
These are the first back-to-back 100-yard rushing games of Murray’s career and the first time he has had multiple touchdowns in consecutive games. The nine catches were also a career high.
Surely worth a ball, right Drew?
“I can’t say enough good things about him,” Brees said. “He’s a pro. He’s a ballplayer. Really great as the workhorse running the football, but a very good back coming out of the backfield.
“I don’t know how many catches he had, but it felt like a lot. It felt like he was a great outlet and was giving us a lot of positive yards and plays. Getting us into third-and-manageable situations just by being able to dump it off to him.”
The Saints signed the former Minnesota Vikings back in March when it became clear they weren’t willing to break the bank to keep former long-time running back Mark Ingram, now with the Baltimore Ravens. Though now 29, an advanced age for an NFL running back, the Saints signed Murray to a four-year, $14.4 million deal to be Kamara’s No. 2. It was a similar role he found himself in the past couple of seasons in Minnesota behind Dalvin Cook (Murray started 11 games in 2017 but just six in 2018).
“He’s one of those runners that has good vision and can kind of put his foot in the ground and pick up speed in a hurry,” Saints coach Sean Payton said. “He’s a fantastic teammate. All of the things that we look for in a player, he has. He has been a good addition to us.”
Murray accepted his role, happy to latch onto a winner. But experience taught him the toll an NFL season takes on players. Being thrust into the role of the lead back once again hardly surprised him.
“This isn’t a one-back league,” Murray said. “You need everybody.
“With time you mature and you understand the game. You understand the role, the offense, why you’re here. I think that just came with time and maturity. Also taking that to another level is really embracing it and not taking it personally.”
Though on the inactive list Sunday, Kamara is expected to return after the Saints’ bye week, Nov. 10 against Atlanta.
He will again get most of the rushes and more of the catches out of the backfield. Like Bridgewater, Murray will have to accept his backup role once again.
“It can be hard,” Murray said. “But if you’re real with yourself, honest with yourself, then I think you can handle it. I’m real and honest with myself about the things I can be better at, the things I don’t do well. When I’m real with myself there’s things I know I can work on. As long as I keep that mindset, when I get my opportunities I’m going to go out and make plays regardless of the situation I’m in.”
When he was done, Murray went off in search of that touchdown catch football. Hopefully someone with the Saints will inscribe it with his name and deeds from Sunday.
As Brees said, he earned it.