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‘They want to beat us bad’: Chiefs address weekly burden of being in the ‘crosshairs’ – Kansas City Chiefs Blog



KANSAS CITY, Mo. — As the two-time defending AFC champions with dynamic talent Patrick Mahomes at quarterback, it’s natural the Kansas City Chiefs take every opponent’s best shot.

Defensive back Tyrann Mathieu suggested the Chiefs are wearing down under that burden.

“We’ve just got to find a way to dig deep,” Mathieu said Sunday night after a 38-20 loss to the Buffalo Bills. “Every team we play wants to beat us. They want to beat us bad. … We go to Washington [this] week and they’re going to want to beat us.

“Guys stay up late [in preparation to play against the Chiefs], coaches stay up late. These guys come into our stadium and all they want to do is win. I say that to say it’s a certain urgency you have to have when you play for the Kansas City Chiefs. Everybody in this league, they want what we have: the Mahomes and the Hills and just all the success we’ve had, teams are chasing that, that glory.”

The Chiefs, who started each of the previous four seasons by winning at least four games, are 2-3 and in an unusual spot — last place in the AFC West. They’ve played a difficult schedule — four of their five opponents look like they will make the playoffs — but uncharacteristically haven’t handled it well.

Much of the problem rests with a defense that is last in the league, allowing almost 33 points per game. That can be traced to many factors, but there seems to be little doubt one of them is that opponents — as Mathieu said — are putting in extra time to prepare for them.

Washington coach Ron Rivera will be the latest to try to beat the Chiefs on Sunday (1 p.m. ET, CBS). He’s familiar with being a particular focus of an opponent’s preparation, having once played for a Super Bowl championship team with the Chicago Bears in 1985 and later coaching the Carolina Panthers to a 15-1 regular season and a Super Bowl berth in 2015.

“It’s very hard,” Rivera said. “[Chiefs coach Andy Reid] won his [Super Bowl] and the next season everybody took shots at him and now everybody takes shots at him another time.

“Having lost [the Super Bowl last season] and just the trauma of trying to get it started again, that’s difficult. It really is. It takes a lot out of you. [Reid] has gone through it two years in a row, I can only imagine how much of a strain that is on an individual. It’s a lot of work. You are always in people’s crosshairs. Nothing comes easy at that point. … You’re in a situation where you’re the measuring stick for a while.”

Rivera said the players felt a similar burden as the coach.

“When I was a player for the Bears, I always felt that way from that point on, from 1985 on, that we were going to get everybody’s best shot,” he said.

Nobody is feeling sorry for the Chiefs. Wearing the bull’s eye is a problem any team would like to have, and Reid suggested doing so is a privilege and not a burden.

“I wouldn’t want to be in any different position than that, as are the guys that have been here before,” Reid said. “And now you’ve got an influx of new guys, so they weren’t here the last year or two.

“Everybody, we just all need to rise our game up and have that same urgency to get things done.”

Mahomes said: “I wouldn’t want it any other way. I want to be as prepared as possible to play in the playoffs to try to make it to the Super Bowl. If that means we’re going to get the best shot from every single team, then I’m ready for the challenge.”

The trouble for the Chiefs is they haven’t been ready this season. Opponents have consistently tried a defensive strategy — two deep safeties and not blitzing — that has at times frustrated Mahomes and the Chiefs’ offense and forced them into turnovers.

On defense, little has worked. They’re allowing a staggering 7.1 yards per play, which is last in the NFL and well over the league average of 5.7. The NFL record for a full season is 6.6.

That can explain why the Chiefs, at least on defense, are feeling the strain.

“We’ve just got to find a way to stop the bleeding,” Mathieu said.

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Sean Taylor to become third player in Washington Football Team franchise history to have jersey number retired



ASHBURN, Va. — The Washington Football Team will retire late safety Sean Taylor’s No. 21 jersey, making him only the third player in franchise history to receive such an honor.

Taylor’s jersey number will be retired during a ceremony before Sunday’s home game against the Kansas City Chiefs. The team also announced Thursday that a road leading to the stadium will be renamed “Sean Taylor Road.”

Washington’s players also will wear a No. 21 decal on their helmets Sunday.

“I came into the NFL the same year as Sean Taylor and immediately his athletic ability, resilience, grit, and relentless work ethic set him apart. I and many others looked to him as a role model,” Washington president Jason Wright said in a statement. “The fact that he was tragically taken so early hurt our player community, but also our fans, coaches, and staff. We will continue to remember him and hold him up as an example of professionalism and excellence, and we will all strive to mirror his excellence in our own ways.”

Taylor was shot on Nov. 27, 2007 during a robbery attempt at his Florida home and later died. He was in the midst of his best NFL season at the time of his death, despite being out with an injury at the time, according to teammates and coaches and was named as a second-team All-Pro in 2007.

Taylor will join Sammy Baugh (No. 33) and Bobby Mitchell (No. 49) as the only Washington players to have their jersey numbers retired. Other numbers such as Darrell Green’s No. 28, Art Monk’s No. 81 and John Riggins’ No. 44 have not been worn since those players retired. All three are in the Hall of Fame.

Washington drafted Taylor with the fifth overall pick in 2004, though he wore No. 36 during his rookie season. He switched to No. 21 the following year.

Taylor’s combination of size and athleticism made him a unique talent in Washington’s secondary, and his popularity led to a number of safeties later wearing No. 21. Washington’s current safety Landon Collins, who wore No. 21 when he was with the New York Giants, said he hoped Washington would draft him because that’s where Taylor had played.

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Line movement, early action and bookmaker insights



Here is our weekly look at how the NFL and college football betting markets are shaping up leading into the weekend.

For consistency, lines, totals and betting percentages are from Caesars Sportsbook, unless otherwise noted. The betting percentages are not specific to the current line or total and are designed to provide a snapshot of the early action. The look-ahead lines were offered in advance of the previous week’s games. Most numbers were re-opened Sunday night.

NFL market watch

Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Philadelphia Eagles (Thursday)

Last week’s look-ahead line: Bucs -6.5, 52.5
Sunday line: Bucs -7, 53
Wednesday line: Bucs -7, 52.4
Spread action: 87% of the bets and 78% of the money wagered is on the Buccaneers.
Total action: 70% of the bets and 51% of the money wagered is on the over.

Notes: Buccaneers QB Tom Brady said Tuesday that his sore thumb on his throwing hand is not seriously injured and he expects any discomfort to dissipate before Thursday’s game.

Miami Dolphins at Jacksonville Jaguars

Last week’s look-ahead line: Dolphins -3, 43.5
Sunday line: Dolphins -3, 45
Wednesday line: Dolphins -3.5 (-105), 47
Spread action: 54% of the bets were on the Jaguars, but 72% of the money wagered was on the Dolphins.
Total action: 52% of the bets and 80% of the money wagered was on the over.

Kansas City Chiefs at Washington Football Team

Last week’s look-ahead line: Chiefs -6, 54
Sunday line: Chiefs -6.5, 55.5
Wednesday line: Chiefs -7, 55.5
Spread action: 95% of the bets and 95% of the money wagered was on the Chiefs.
Total action: 70% of the bets and 75% of the money wagered was on the over.

Los Angeles Chargers at Baltimore Ravens

Last week’s look-ahead line: Ravens -3, 48
Sunday line: Ravens -3, 51.5
Wednesday line: Ravens -3 (-105), 52
Spread action: 91% of the bets and 96% of the money wagered was on the Chargers.
Total action: 93% of the bets and 99% of the money wagered was on the over.

Notes: The betting public sided with the underdog Chargers early in the week at BetRivers’ sportsbooks, where Los Angeles had attracted 91% of the money wagered on the point spread. “The Chargers will be a public underdog this week; they’ve got quality wins,” Craig Mucklow, vice president of trading for Caesars Sportsbook, said in a company release. “The Ravens were lucky to beat the Lions and Colts, and lost to the Raiders. I’m not convinced Baltimore is everything they’re made out to be right now.”

Green Bay Packers at Chicago Bears

Last week’s look-ahead line: Packers -4.5, 46
Sunday line: Packers -4, 46
Wednesday line: Packers -4.5, 45
Spread action: 85% of the bets and 80% of the money wagered was on the Packers.
Total action: 71% of the bets were on the over, but 95% of the money wagered was on the under.

Houston Texans at Indianapolis Colts

Last week’s look-ahead line: Colts -7.5, 43.5
Sunday line: Colts -10, 43.5
Wednesday line: Colts -9.5, 42.5
Spread action: 58% of the bets and 51% of the money wagered was on the Texans.
Total action: 82% of the bets were on the over, but 81% of the money wagered was on the under.

Los Angeles Rams at New York Giants

Last week’s look-ahead line: Rams -6.5, 50
Sunday line: Rams -10, 48
Wednesday line: Rams -9.5, 49
Spread action: 94% of the bets and 94% of the money wagered was on the Rams.
Total action: 56% of the bets were on the over, but 76% of the money wagered was on the Giants.

Minnesota Vikings at Carolina Panthers

Last week’s look-ahead line: Panthers -1, 47
Sunday line: Pick ’em, 47
Wednesday line: Vikings -1, 46
Spread action: 52% of the bets and 56% of the money wagered was on the Vikings.
Total action: 65% of the bets were on the over, but 85% of the money wagered was on the under.

Notes: The early action on the game at Caesars Sportsbook included a $500,000 money-line bet on the Vikings at even money.

Cincinnati Bengals at Detroit Lions

Last week’s look-ahead line: Bengals -3, 49
Sunday line: Bengals -3.5, 48.5
Wednesday line: Bengals -3.5, 47.5
Spread action: 78% of the bets and 95% of the money wagered was on the Bengals.
Total action: 56% of the bets were on the over, but 95% of the money wagered was on the under.

Notes: The lopsided action on the Bengals at Caesars Sportsbook included a $500,000 bet on Cincinnati -3.

Arizona Cardinals at Cleveland Browns

Last week’s look-ahead line: Browns -3, 52.5
Sunday line: Browns -3, 54
Wednesday line: Browns -3 (-105,) 49.5
Spread action: 71% of the bets were on the Cardinals, but 58% of the money wagered was on the Browns.
Total action: 83% of the bets were on the over, but 67% of the money wagered was on the under.

Notes: Early weather forecasts in Cleveland were calling for heavy winds, ranging from 17-19 mph during Sunday’s game.

Dallas Cowboys at New England Patriots

Last week’s look-ahead line: Cowboys -1, 48
Sunday line: Cowboys -3, 48
Wednesday line: Cowboys -3.5, 51
Spread action: 93% of the bets and 79% of the money wagered was on the Cowboys.
Total action: 62% of the bets and 99% of the money was on the over.

Notes: Books are going to need the home underdog Patriots, potentially for a big decision. As of Wednesday at BetRivers sportsbooks, more money had bet on Cowboys minus the points than had been bet on any other market on the board.

Las Vegas Raiders at Denver Broncos

Last week’s look-ahead line: Broncos -2.5, 44
Sunday line: Broncos -3, 44.5
Wednesday line: Broncos -3.5, 44
Spread action: 60% of the bets and 85% of the money wagered was on the Broncos.
Total action: 65% of the bets were on the over, but 71% of the money wagered was on the under.

Notes: Books took different approaches to ex-Raider coach Jon Gruden’s resignation this week. Some sportsbooks halted betting on the game; other books, including Caesars, kept the game on the board and tweaked the line slightly. Caesars moved the Broncos from -3 to -3.5 on the news of Gruden’s resignation. “Bill Belichick is the only coach where the spread would move significantly if he wasn’t on the sidelines,” Mucklow said. “In this instance, you have a Super Bowl-winning coach being replaced by someone who’s never been a head coach. With how the Raiders have looked recently and all the distractions that are going on, it’s not a surprise that this number moved off 3. We’ll see how the players respond to the new coach, but obviously this is a different case compared to coaches that get fired midseason for poor records.”

Seattle Seahawks at Pittsburgh Steelers

Last week’s look-ahead line: Seahawks -2.5, 48
Sunday line: Steelers -4, 43
Wednesday line: -5, 42.5
Spread action: 69% of the bets and 75% of the money wagered was on the Steelers.
Total action: 68% of the bets were on the over, but 88% of the money wagered was on the under.

Notes: The line flipped from Seattle -2.5 to Steelers -3 after Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson suffered an injured finger in a loss to the Rams last Thursday. The total dropped from 48 to 42.5 on the news of Wilson’s injury, which is expected to keep him out several weeks, although not specific timetable has been given for his return.

Buffalo Bills at Tennessee Titans (Monday)

Last week’s look-ahead line: Bills -3, 52.5
Sunday line: Bills -4.5, 53.5
Wednesday line: Bills -5.5, 54
Spread action: 94% of the bets and 96% of the money wagered was on the Bills.
Total action: 81% of the bets and 73% of the money was on the over.

A bookmaker’s approach to college football lines

Circa Sports is responsible for the first college football lines to hit the betting market each week. The book posts its opening lines at 11 a.m. PT on Sundays and offers $3,000 betting limits to all comers, including professional bettors. Within the industry, Circa Sports is what’s considered a “sharp book.” Their limits grow rapidly through the week and, by the time kickoff approaches, will be among the largest in the betting market.

Matt Metcalf, sportsbook director for Circa Sports in Las Vegas, is sharing his bookmaking approach with ESPN this football season.

Handicapping the Sooners’ QB situation

Metcalf moved Oklahoma up three points in his power ratings based on the offense he saw against Texas in the second half. The Sooners inserted freshman quarterback Caleb Williams in place of starter Spencer Rattler against Texas and rallied from 18 points down in the second half to knock off the Longhorns 55-48.

“I’m assuming they’ll do what it takes to have that offense. If that involves not playing Rattler, I think they’ll go that route,” Metcalf said. Oklahoma coach Lincoln Riley has declined to name a starting quarterback for Saturday’s game against TCU.

The Sooners opened as 12-point favorites over TCU at Circa. Metcalf initially wanted to use Oklahoma -14, but, without knowing for sure whether Williams or Rattler will start, elected to go with the lower number.

“I didn’t want to commit all the way to getting that Oklahoma team that we saw in the second half,” Metcalf said. “If they did play Rattler, I think the number still works.”

The line had grown to Oklahoma -14 by Wednesday

Reading ahead of the market on Clemson-Syracuse

Learning information on injuries can force Circa Sports oddsmakers into a guessing game of trying to figure out whether bettors have read the same information. This week, it happened when Metcalf and his team were formulating the point spread on the Clemson-Syracuse game. Metcalf had read that key Syracuse starting offensive linemen missed last week’s game against Wake Forest with injuries and thought that Clemson’s defensive front would have the advantage. Plus, with Clemson coming off a bye week, he felt like this was a good spot for the Tigers.

The consensus line among Circa’s oddsmakers was Clemson -15, but they ended up opening the Tigers as 17-point favorites.

“The thought was that Clemson, with a bigger, stronger defensive front, would give [Syracuse] a lot of trouble, so we kind of tacked on some points there,” Metcalf said.

The early money came in on Syracuse, driving the number to as low as Clemson -13.5, and the guessing game began. “I don’t know whether people are telling us that they don’t agree with it or they just didn’t read it yet,” Metcalf said. “Sometimes, if we read ahead of the market on injuries, it doesn’t really pay in a sense because we’ll sit there and take a lot of bets”

Metcalf couldn’t stomach leaving the point spread at any less than Clemson -14, where it has sat for the first half of the week.

“I think Clemson is the side I would look to need as a bookie,” Metcalf added, “because it feels like a good spot for them.”

Cursing the early action on Navy-Memphis

Metcalf opened Memphis as 9-point favorites over Navy but was cursing himself three hours after putting the number on the board; not because he was wrong, but because he was right.

The first limit bets were on Navy. Metcalf moved the number aggressively toward the underdog, through the key number of 7 and down to 6.5. “I don’t really like Memphis,” he said, “and I struggle with if Navy has improved.”

At that point, the next several max bets were on Memphis and the lower number, pushing the number back to around the opening line of Tigers -9.

“I kind of doubted my number too much, and I was wrong, and they bet it back up,” Metcalf said. “So, I’m sitting on my opener but have two limits bets high on Memphis. I trusted the market over my number in the beginning. And our number was better than I thought it was.”

Memphis was a 10.5-point favorite as of Wednesday afternoon.

Public, sharps agree on Cincinnati

Metcalf believes Cincinnati is probably a two-touchdown underdog to the elite teams like Georgia and Alabama, and around 10 points to Ohio State.

“But it’s obvious that everyone is behind that team,” Metcalf said. “We took a ton of action on them last week against Temple. The public and the sharp guys definitely like them.”

Metcalf opened Cincinnati as 16-point favorites over UCF this week and attracted immediate action on the Bearcats. The line had settled at Cincinnati -21 as of Wednesday.

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How Baker Mayfield and Kyler Murray pushed each other to greatness as Oklahoma teammates



During their two years together at Oklahoma, Cleveland Browns quarterback Baker Mayfield and Arizona Cardinals quarterback Kyler Murray never stopped competing.

Not so much for the starting job. Mayfield had already locked that up, having quarterbacked the Sooners to the College Football Playoff during the 2015 season, weeks before Murray arrived in Norman, Oklahoma, after transferring from Texas A&M.

But that didn’t stop them from finding other ways to compete, even in the smallest of ways.

“They’re out there in a warm-up drill, seeing who could throw the best spiral,” Oklahoma coach Lincoln Riley recalled. “It was just constantly about that.”

Was it ever, according to Austin Kendall, Tanner Schafer, Reece Clark and Connor McGinnis — the four other Oklahoma quarterbacks who shared a meeting room with Mayfield and Murray during those 2016 and 2017 seasons.

“We always turned every single drill into some sort of competition — just because they wanted to beat each other, which was obviously quite fun,” McGinnis said. “But oh my gosh, it was nonstop.”

This Sunday, the two former teammates will be out to beat each other once again, as Murray and the Cardinals travel to face Mayfield’s Browns in Cleveland (4:05 p.m. ET, Fox). In their first NFL meeting two seasons ago, Murray got the best of Mayfield. Now, Mayfield will look to return the favor by handing the undefeated Cardinals their first loss.

“Obviously he was the guy, but I gave him s— all the time,” Murray said. “It was competitive, but at the same time, we had the best quarterback room in the country — we knew it.

“The confidence, the swagger about that room was unmatched. … and it was fun.”

Unmatched, indeed. Mayfield and Murray became the first quarterbacks from the same school to not only win the Heisman Trophy in back-to-back seasons but go No. 1 overall in consecutive NFL drafts.

“Really special,” said former Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops, who handed the reins over to Riley in 2017, one year before Mayfield would do the same with Murray. “Just two incredibly talented, driven individuals that really were great examples for the team on how to be teammates, how to work and how to prepare.”

Yet despite that drive to be the best, Mayfield and Murray never allowed a potentially combustible situation at Oklahoma to spill into controversy, even after encountering a pitfall or two.

Mayfield embraced the competition, as opposed to feeling threatened by Murray’s unique ability. And even though he might have been a starter almost anywhere else in college football, Murray never became disgruntled or a distraction for Mayfield or the Sooners, even after Mayfield retroactively was given an extra season of eligibility, which left Murray on the sidelines.

“It was a healthy relationship for us,” Mayfield said. “All egos were put to the side. … And we were able to push each other and absolutely get the best out of each other.”

They channeled those competitive streaks to help the other ultimately reach greatness — while having fun along the way.

“For having two players of that caliber in the same meeting room, it was about as positive as you could imagine, because there’s obviously a million different things that could’ve gone wrong where it wouldn’t have been good for one or the other or both,” Riley said prior to last weekend’s Red River Showdown, when he benched former five-star recruit Spencer Rattler, in favor of another, Caleb Williams, who propelled the Sooners to an improbable comeback victory over Texas.

“They didn’t take s— from each other, but it was a healthy competition and a healthy respect,” Riley said of Mayfield and Murray. “And they were both smart enough to figure out that they could learn something from the other.

“They certainly would’ve been good players anyway. But they pushed each other to become even better.”

WHEN MAYFIELD AND Murray were both at Oklahoma, practice seemed almost as exciting as the games.

“Baker would be just yelling the entire day, swatting the defensive coaches on the butts” after big plays, Stoops said. “Unbelievable the energy he brought, made it fun for everybody.”

Murray was as unbelievable operating the scout-team offense, virtually untouchable whenever he would scramble out of the pocket. Stoops said he and his assistants would rewatch those practice highlights, simply for entertainment value.

“It was just like, holy cow,” Stoops said.

When Mayfield and Murray weren’t tormenting Oklahoma’s defenders, they were going at one another, competing to see who could bounce the most throws off the goalpost’s crossbar or land more passes into a trash can. The quarterbacks would always split teams by even and odd jersey numbers, so Mayfield (wearing No. 6) and Murray (No. 1) could be on opposing sides; losers usually had to carry the winners’ shoulder pads inside after practice.

“Here we are in the middle of special teams, a chance for those guys to relax, chill a little bit, and instead they’re going all out, trying to win these quarterback games,” said Ohio University assistant coach Tyler Tettleton, a former graduate assistant who worked with the quarterbacks at Oklahoma. “We looked more forward to that over anything else in practice, just because of how fun and competitive those two guys made it.”

That carried over into the meeting room, where the quarterbacks perpetually squared off in a celebrity guessing game they called “passcode.”

“Their level of competitiveness was not like anything I’ve ever been around. And I think that’s what made us so good those years. Everybody was feeding off those two guys. Not just the quarterback room, but the whole team.”

Tanner Schafer
Oklahoma QB 2017-present

“Say me and Kyler were on a team, me and Baker would come up with a celebrity, and we each took turns saying one word to our partner to try to get them to guess it — it just bounced back and forth until somebody guessed the celebrity,” Clark said. “And we would play this for weeks on end, because they’re like, ‘OK we’re playing to 10. No, no, no, we’re playing first one to 20. No, no, first one to 30.’ It just kept going on and on, just because they wanted to win even in something like that.”

When Mayfield and Murray weren’t playing passcode, the two would argue about almost anything, from who would win the Masters that year, to who was better in the video game Rocket League, to whose Texas high school alma mater had the superior football program.

“Their level of competitiveness was not like anything I’ve ever been around,” said Schafer, who is still on the Oklahoma roster. “And I think that’s what made us so good those years. Everybody was feeding off those two guys. Not just the quarterback room, but the whole team.”

It was a mutual bravado that also led to plenty of trash talk.

“He might show it differently,” Mayfield said of Murray, “but behind closed doors, he is quite the trash talker. Don’t let him fool you.”

Mayfield teased Murray for carrying around a keychain with a tiny bottle of sriracha sauce attached to it, which he would pop open to spice up his meals. Murray never passed up an opportunity to take a shot at Mayfield’s speed — or, in his opinion, lack thereof.

“We’d be watching film and Baker would take off on a scramble,” Clark said, “and Kyler would kind of smirk, like ‘Oh, I would’ve taken that to the house.'”

Yet while they enjoyed goofing around, Mayfield and Murray were all business when it mattered.

“They knew every answer to every question,” Clark said. “Every blitz that was coming, every protection, every line shift, like the back of their hand.”

And through that, Riley believes, they also learned from one another.

“The preparation, Baker is pretty meticulous with that, and I think Kyler took a lot from him,” Riley said. “But I think Kyler had the ability in his mind to keep things very simple. And I think at times with Baker — sometimes with quarterbacks, you cannot know too much, but you can be trying to process too much at times — the way Kyler was able to break things down and keep them very simple and keep the main thing the main thing, I think that’s something that Baker took note of.

“And all of that was fun to watch unfold.”

IN 2015, AS Mayfield guided Oklahoma to the playoff, Murray, then at Texas A&M, was looking to transfer.

Because Mayfield had only one season of eligibility remaining at the time, the Sooners were looking to take a transfer quarterback. So Stoops had Riley, then in his first year as Oklahoma’s offensive coordinator, study tape of three prospective quarterbacks — Will Grier, Kyle Allen, who have both since started games in the NFL, and Murray — to determine which to pursue.

“Lincoln comes back and says, ‘I like all three. All three can help us and can win for us,'” Stoops recalled. “But this guy Kyler Murray, he can win a Heisman Trophy.'”

Sure enough, Murray would do just that in his lone season starting for the Sooners.

“Sometimes you see things over and over,” Riley said, “and then all of a sudden you see something that’s just totally different and it just hits you in a different way. That’s how his tape hit for me.”

By that point, Mayfield was entrenched as the starter. But Murray’s natural talent never allowed Mayfield to feel complacent.

“Baker deep down knew that he had to continue to play at a high level,” Riley said, “just because he had another good player in the room.”

But Mayfield welcomed the challenge.

“He had the self-confidence to say, throw whoever in front of me, I’m going to take him down,” Clark said. “And Kyler was so self-confident, he knew, even if he only had a year, he was going to make it all happen.”

When Murray initially picked Oklahoma, though, he assumed he’d have two years to play. But the summer after the 2015 season, the Big 12 Conference voted to give Mayfield a year of eligibility back, since he walked-on to Oklahoma when he transferred from Texas Tech. The Sooners privately worried Murray might leave as a result.

“But he didn’t flinch,” Stoops said.

Murray redshirted during the 2016 season. Then in 2017, he was the backup, as Mayfield won the Heisman.

“Bake’s a great player. He gets a lot of hate and all that, but I watched firsthand each and every day, how hard he worked, make throws that a lot of people can’t make,” Murray said. “I’m glad that I got to learn from him throughout those years.”

Murray finally got his chance, ironically, in Mayfield’s final college home game. Mayfield had been suspended from starting against West Virginia for grabbing his crotch and yelling, “F— you!” to the Kansas sidelines the weekend before, after the Jayhawks snubbed Mayfield’s handshake attempt at midfield following the pregame coin toss. That put Murray behind center on the opening series against the Mountaineers.

Before the first snap, Stoops told those in his stadium suite to buckle up. And sure enough, on the very first play, Murray took off for a 66-yard run before being dragged down at the West Virginia 4-yard line.

“And the person most excited on our sideline is Baker,” Riley said. “That was just them, how they were.”

The next day, though, as they watched the film, Mayfield couldn’t resist lobbing a “not fast enough” jab back at Murray for being caught from behind.

“The respect those guys had for each other went a long way,” said Austin Kendall, now Louisiana Tech’s starting quarterback, who noted how much he learned from Mayfield and Murray about leadership and preparation. “And I respected the hell out of those guys for it.”

WEEKS LATER, IN the aftermath of the season-ending-defeat to Georgia in the Rose Bowl, Mayfield stood a few feet away from Murray’s locker. As soon as he finished answering questions about losing the heartbreaking overtime thriller, he beelined to Murray and gave him a hug.

“They’re in great hands,” Mayfield had said moments before of the Sooners. “Kyler is the best athlete in the country. … They’re going to be just fine.”

Just as Mayfield had predicted, Oklahoma was more than fine. Murray went on to break Mayfield’s FBS single-season passing efficiency record while winning the Heisman and leading Oklahoma back to the playoff.

“You could just tell he had it — the way he elevated his teammates, the way he played,” Mayfield said. “He might show it in a different way, but he’s extremely competitive. That’s another reason why he is where he is.”

Their shared success from college has since carried into the pros.

Last season, Mayfield led the Browns to their first playoff victory in 26 years. And behind Murray’s spectacular start, Arizona is the NFL’s last unbeaten team this season.

“They were a lot of fun to have in the room. … And I think they ended up getting the best out of each other,” Riley said. “They’re the ones that deserve the credit because they handled it in a way that a lot of people wouldn’t have.”

ESPN Arizona Cardinals reporter Josh Weinfuss contributed.

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