The anatomy of ‘Hail Murray’: How Kyler Murray, DeAndre Hopkins concocted Cardinals’ game-winning catch

Kyler Murray’s Hail Mary to DeAndre Hopkins was so incredible that when “SportsCenter” teased its Top 10 Plays the day after, they played a highlight of the catch with an anchor saying, “Well, I think we know which play is going to be number one.”

“SportsCenter” almost never reveals its No. 1 play. Oftentimes, the teaser highlight doesn’t even make the cut. But in this case, there was absolutely zero doubt that the play of the weekend (and maybe of the entire 2020 NFL season) was the Cardinals’ game-winning pass to beat the Bills in Week 10.

It was quickly dubbed “Hail Murray,” even though elements of the play weren’t traditional Hail Mary aspects, and also ignoring the crucial role in the play Hopkins played. But it’s got a nice ring to it, so that’s fine. This is our breakdown of “Hail Murray,” one of the greatest game-winning Hail Mary passes in NFL history. 

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Was ‘Hail Murray’ a Hail Mary?

This all depends on how you define a Hail Mary. Yes, it was a last-second heave into the end zone for a blanketed receiver with the game on the line. 

But if we watch the play from a raised side angle, one of the replay angles they showed on the CBS broadcast, this play wasn’t drawn up as a typical Hail Mary.

The video above shows some of it. Hopkins lines up alone wide left of the formation, while there’s a trips setup to the right. A classic Hail Mary would often see Murray toss the ball up toward the grouping of three receivers once they’re reaching the end zone. This isn’t that. 

With 11 seconds on the clock at the snap, the receivers out of the trips formation run various degrees of crossing routes as Murray rolls to his left. The rollout doesn’t look totally designed, as Murray pauses for a bit, but if it was, pressure forces him to roll even wider. The plan initially may have been to hit one of those crossing receivers after Hopkins went deep to clear the safeties out. The crosser would’ve gotten 15 or 20 yards before going out of bounds to stop the clock ahead of one final play.

But the pressure made Murray escape toward the left sideline and even shimmy a bit to get one guy to miss. At that point, he’s certainly throwing up a prayer to Hopkins, who’s surrounded by three defenders in the end zone. So no, the play wasn’t designed as a traditional Hail Mary, but it turned into one. 

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Kyler Murray’s scrambling ability trust in DeAndre Hopkins

Murray’s postgame tweet said it all:

By the time Murray had been pressured almost all of the way to the left sideline, he really had no choice. He couldn’t know whether there’d be time to run another play. He had to chuck it to his best receiver, who he knew had essentially run in a straight line toward the end zone after the snap. 

Of course, many quarterbacks can’t run the way Murray does. Some would have stood in the pocket. Others would’ve been chased down somewhere along their way toward the sideline. Murray, though, evaded everyone and created enough space to throw.

Obviously, it worked out, and while Murray had eliminated most other options with his scramble, an early-season conversation with his new top receiver might’ve helped.

“I was telling Kyler, ‘Just trust me,’ ” Hopkins said on Oct. 12. “I told him, ‘Just give me a chance and let’s work on some things.'”

The trust definitely paid off.

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DeAndre Hopkins’ vertical leap and big hands

At his NFL Combine, the 6-1 Hopkins vertical leaped 36 inches. He’s also got 10-inch hands. Those are both larger figures than any of the three defenders that were near him on the Hail Mary. 

“Even if he’s covered, he’s not really covered just because his catch radius is ridiculous,” Murray told ESPN before the season. “His arms are long. His hands are big. So, I mean, it helps me out, but at the same time, I’m trying to help him out and just put it where only he can get it, so I think it’s a good combination.”

In this case, all of that came in handy. Hopkins’ hands were barely higher than the defenders thanks to his vertical leap and reach. There’s no telling whether he would’ve held on with smaller hands, but they couldn’t have hurt. 

And so it was that everything aligned perfectly for the Cardinals on their game-winning play against the Bills. A portion of the play design got Hopkins a winnable matchup. Murray scrambled like he can and had trust in Hopkins down the field. Hopkins got up and reached out his big mitts, and the ball stuck in his hands for the win.