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Felt ‘disconnected’ in return from COVD-19 absence



GLENDALE, Ariz. — Arizona Cardinals coach Kliff Kingsbury didn’t feel like his usual playcalling self during Sunday’s 31-5 win over the Houston Texans after being away from his team for eight days because of a positive COVID-19 diagnosis.

Kingsbury said he felt “great” physically but was a “little disconnected.”

“I didn’t feel as into the game as I usually am just showing up on game day,” Kingsbury said. “But the players were awesome. Great energy and made me feel very welcome to be back.”

Arizona didn’t score in the first quarter against the Texans, the first time this season that the undefeated Cardinals hadn’t scored in the first 15 minutes. The offense rebounded to score four touchdowns and a field goal in the final 45 minutes.

But not going through an entire week of play design and game prep in the office and on the field with the players was frustrating for Kingsbury, who said that, as the play designer and playcaller, not being able to workshop the plays during practice was a drastic difference.

“You want to get your hands on it,” Kingsbury said.

That all led to him feeling out of sorts on Sunday.

“It just felt funky,” Kingsbury said. “Usually, I’ve called those plays over and over throughout the week. [Quarterback Kyler Murray] and I have had that dialogue. That was the first time we’d even gone over them was out there. So, it just didn’t feel like the same type of rhythm, same type of comfort level. I just felt more on edge than I normally do after six days of preparation.”

Being away from the team for that long led Kingsbury to miss a few things, like the trade to acquire tight end Zach Ertz. The two met for the first time during warmups Sunday.

Kingsbury found out around 6:30 a.m. Sunday that he was cleared to coach against Houston. After testing positive on Oct. 15, Kingsbury needed two negative tests 24 hours apart to be cleared to return. Kingsbury, who’s vaccinated, was tested every day since his initial positive result. He was asymptomatic throughout the week, a source told ESPN.

Kingsbury spent the week preparing the game plan for Sunday, at that point still unsure if he’d be on the sideline, while working ahead. He didn’t watch the Cardinals’ win over the Browns last weekend on TV, opting to follow it on his phone while he prepped for the Texans. This past week, he spent time preparing for the Green Bay Packers on Thursday night.

“I just felt like I needed to be doing something to help the team,” Kingsbury said. “I couldn’t just sit there like a fan.”

When asked what went through his head when he found out he tested positive, Kingsbury said he didn’t want to get into that. “But,” he added, “it was a lot of curse words.”

Kingsbury had his first negative test on Saturday, which gave him a good feeling about being cleared Sunday.

“It was down to the wire,” Kingsbury said. “It’s a long week just sitting at home when you know those guys are working. I prefer the other scenario where you can coach all week and then hand them the game plan and call it than this because this way, you don’t get to see, you don’t get to correct it. You have a vision, but it’s hard not being there all week.”

As soon as he was cleared, he began getting his game-day plan in order, which included the play script and preparing mentally.

“This was the most disconnect that I felt to a game ever,” Kingsbury said, “just because I just showed up, ‘Here’s the plan, and let’s go.'”

However, Murray didn’t feel a disconnect with Kingsbury.

“Our job is to go out there and execute what’s called. I’m sure it probably did because if you miss a week — it’s not like he was in the building around the players and all that type of stuff — it was like missing a week of practice and being at home, it’s a little different,” Murray said. “I’m sure he felt a little off, but we put up 31 today, defense played great, it was a great team win. So, for him to feel awkward and we still put up 31 is a good job by us, and we have to keep it going because the Packers are coming and that’s a great team.”

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How Arizona Cardinals quarterback Kyler Murray adopted philosophies of his idol, Bruce Lee



TEMPE, Ariz. — To the left of the door inside Kyler Murray‘s bedroom at his parents’ home in Texas, below an Oklahoma Sooners banner, is a black-and-white picture of Bruce Lee.

Whenever Murray has a break from his duties as Arizona Cardinals quarterback and heads back to his home state, he stays with his parents. And every time he’s back home, he sees that picture.

It’s a reminder of how Murray lives his life in the ethos of Lee, the martial arts master who died 49 years ago.

Murray’s mom, Missy, tells her youngest son to always make sure the picture is straight before he leaves his room, otherwise, the zen — Bruce Lee’s zen — will be off. And if there’s one thing you don’t want to disturb in the Murray family, it’s Bruce Lee’s zen. It’s everywhere, Missy said, from the material — a Bruce Lee blanket that once hung in Kyler’s Oklahoma dorm room, now folded in his closet — to the ethereal — Missy preaches diversity and cultural awareness in her house and uses Lee as an example of someone who helped break cultural and racial barriers throughout his short life, including by marrying outside his race.

Missy stoked Kyler’s interest in Lee with books and movies, and now Lee has become an integral part of Kyler’s life. Kyler has become a Lee disciple, using his philosophies, teachings and techniques in football and life to help unclog his brain, calm himself and find perspective.

Those philosophies might prove crucial for Murray as he prepares for the first playoff game of his career on Monday when he and the Cardinals face the Los Angeles Rams in the wild-card round (8:15 p.m. ET, ESPN).

Murray connected to Lee through a shared mental fortitude, a shared ability to reach success and a shared Asian heritage. Murray is one-quarter Korean and Lee was of Chinese descent.

Lee’s philosophy involves “fulfilling your potential,” said Shannon Lee, Bruce’s daughter. Bruce called it “self-actualizing,” she explained, and it’s a combination of discovering one’s self, knowing yourself and then working to improve yourself to “become the best, most whole, most alive version of yourself that you can be.”

Murray has embraced this mantra. Ahead of a Week 6 game against the Cleveland Browns, Murray’s mind was crowded. He was concerned about facing the Browns’ two talented pass-rushers, Myles Garrett and Jadeveon Clowney, while also looking across the field at his friend, Browns quarterback Baker Mayfield.

To help him, Murray relies on Lee’s philosophies.

“If I have a situation that’s tough or going into a game, it kind of calms you down,” Murray told ESPN. “… Bruce’s philosophies, it kind of mellows you out. You mentioned trust your judgment, your instincts, your skills, everything you’ve worked on. It just kind of gives you a sense of confidence and, like I said, it calms the mental down for me.

“It slows s— down because you got a lot of things going on — or I do, personally — going into a game.”

‘Be water’

To Murray, Lee’s philosophy means he has “no limitations.” The foundation is one of Lee’s most famous teachings: “Be water.” Murray wears a gold bracelet on his left wrist with the words inscribed on it.

“It’s kind of like, don’t put yourself in this box despite what everybody says, is basically as simple as I can put it,” Murray said. “You gotta be as versatile as possible.”

“Be water” has helped the undersized quarterback flourish on the field. Murray is acutely aware his size is supposed to put him at a disadvantage. He’s 5-foot-10, far shorter than the “prototypical” quarterback standard, but Murray labels himself as a “different type of player” because of his ability to make plays with his arm and feet.

It’s another way Murray finds motivation from Lee, who stood 5-foot-8 yet performed beyond his size, much like Murray has throughout his career.

When he’s asked which quarterbacks he looks up to, Murray gives some of the obvious answers: Michael Vick, Russell Wilson and his father, Kevin Murray, who was a star quarterback at Texas A&M during the 1980s. Murray uses those comparisons primarily because he’s built like them, but, as Lee taught, Murray feels like he can be formless.

“I have the capability to kind of be my own mold of a player,” Murray said. “As far as, like, the philosophy goes, I got it on my deal — be water. I live by that. … I’m playing against 6-5, 300-pound [defenders]. I’m going against these specimens and I’m the smallest dude on the field most of the time. So, it’s like, kind of f— with everybody, f— everybody, and it’s like, go do you and just be water, be formless, don’t care what everybody says.

“That’s how I see it.”

Bruce Lee would be a fan

Living the philosophy like Murray does is very Bruce Lee of him, said Shannon, who thinks her father would be a fan of Murray’s if he was still around. Bruce died in 1973 at 32 years old, when Shannon was 4. Earlier this year, Shannon was going through her father’s library to prepare it for a move to the Wing Luke Museum in Seattle when she unexpectedly found two books about football.

Shannon, whose mom is a big sports fan and who grew up watching Monday Night Football and going to Dodgers games, doesn’t think her dad watched much TV, but he was interested in physical movement. Even though his focus was combat, he loved talking to people who did other types of physical disciplines, Shannon said.

Football, in a way, is like organized combat, Shannon pointed out. It includes the art of movement and has parts she thinks Bruce “would have really loved.”

Which leads back to Murray.

“He would think he was awesome,” Shannon said. “Why wouldn’t he?

“He would love to see how he’s applying himself, mentally, physically, spiritually.”

Murray has shown Shannon that Bruce Lee’s philosophy is timeless. He’s 24, right around the age when Lee was in the middle of developing his philosophies.

To Kyler’s mom, Missy, who was introduced to martial arts as a young girl in South Korea, it’s like her world has come full circle. The more she learned about Lee growing up — how he was the child of immigrants, how he embraced multiculturalism while still honoring his own Asian heritage, how he wanted to control his own destiny — the more she admired Lee. Now the man she grew up admiring is being admired — practically beloved — by her famous son, who counts Bruce Lee’s daughter among his followers on social media.

“It’s a surreal feeling,” Missy said. “It really is.”

Shannon is grateful Murray has embraced her father like he has, but Murray’s appreciation for Lee goes beyond his practice. He dresses like Lee, and was in ESPN’s 30 for 30 film about Lee, “Be Water.” He has worn a Lee pendant, and he wears custom thigh pads with Lee’s image.

“It’s, like, mind-blowing to see this young football player, who you wouldn’t think would necessarily be a Bruce Lee fan,” Shannon said. “I mean, who isn’t a Bruce Lee fan? Because people are like, ‘Oh, Bruce Lee, he’s cool.’ But, like, usually that’s a bit the level. But like to really see that, it is in part mind-blowing and part heartwarming.”

Bruce Lee for the next generation

Murray has long embraced his multiethnic heritage.

His dad, Kevin, is Black. His mom, Missy, is half Korean and half Black. His understanding of race, ethnicity, culture and how they all relate to each other and within the confines of society, started at home. Missy never shied away from talking about race and racism, and preached acceptance.

“More so for me, being Korean, being Asian is a big deal for me to show that I’m not just African American, I’m both, so I represent both sides,” Murray said.

Murray doesn’t shy away from showing how much of a fan he is of Lee, which is also a public embrace of his Asian heritage.

He showed up to the Cardinals’ Week 5 game against the San Francisco 49ers wearing a black tunic with a Mandarin collar and trousers that were similar to what Lee would wear. The first time Missy saw the outfit on Kyler was when he tried it on. She nearly fell to her knees.

“I’m like, ‘You have to get this suit. I don’t care if this is the last one and it doesn’t really fit. You have to get the suit,'” she said. “I’m like, ‘This is the Bruce Lee suit.’ He was like, ‘Mom, I know.’

“The suit melted my heart.”

Murray knows he’s exposing Lee to people who might not know who he was or might not know a lot about him. However, he’s not doing it out of a sense of responsibility to carry on Lee’s teachings due to their shared Asian heritage.

Murray does it for himself.

Lee’s philosophies have been his guiding light, his North Star, for football and life.

“People look up to me so they’ll obviously start to, ‘Oh, let me do this, let me do that,'” Murray said, “So I think that’ll pump his philosophies. People will watch his YouTube videos, movies and stuff like that, but nah, I don’t do it for anybody else other than my mindset and what I go through throughout the day.”

Handling the noise

Stephen Baca has been Murray’s trainer since his sophomore year in high school. Murray doesn’t talk about Lee’s philosophy or teachings in the gym, but he makes it known he’s a fan of the martial artist through, for example, T-shirts.

Baca has seen Lee’s philosophy manifest itself in how Murray handles the outside noise.

“The Bruce Lee philosophy is the opinion of people that are not in your circle, they don’t really matter,” Baca said. “That doesn’t mean that those people don’t matter. It just means that their opinion shouldn’t have a way to affect you one way or the next.

“If they say, ‘Oh, you can’t do this or that because you play bad, you play not to your standards,’ and people are gonna say what they say negatively, it’s the same thing. You’re like water. If something gets thrown in water, the shape of water doesn’t change, right? It stays the same and you can’t mess with the piece or structure of it, at least not for too long. It ripples and then it sits back to calm and I love that.”

The more Kyler’s mom thought about how much Lee has impacted her son, the more obvious and clear it became.

“Do you see Bruce Lee’s philosophy in Kyler today? Absolutely, 199%, yes,” she said. “Because he’s so calm. This child is so calm that sometimes I interview him after games because I’m just like, ‘How do you remain … When you had two seconds left on the clock, how did you … What were you thinking?’

“I’ve always called him my little ninja. We never put them in martial arts, but he just adapted to watching Bruce Lee.”

Shannon has been impressed with how much Murray has embraced her father and how he implements his teachings.

“Kyler is accomplishing at such a high level and really utilizing it with so much depth, these words and things, I, certainly at 24, wasn’t doing that,” she said. “It is impressive and I think he should be applauded for that because it takes a lot of drive and desire to apply these types of things at such a young age. You haven’t lived as much of your life yet.

“You have to have depth, in a lot of ways, to key into the philosophy in the way that he has. … It requires a lot of awareness and it requires a lot of effort, and it requires taking thoughts and words, and translating them into action.”

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Many changes for Packers-49ers, even the Matt LaFleur-Kyle Shanahan angle – Green Bay Packers Blog



GREEN BAY, Wis. — When the Green Bay Packers played the San Francisco 49ers in the playoffs two years ago, one of the biggest storylines was the coaching connection — almost a brotherhood — between Matt LaFleur and Kyle Shanahan.

It was LaFleur, the first-year Packers coach, against one of his mentors and close friends.

Two years later, with the two teams set to meet in Saturday night’s NFC divisional-round playoff game at Lambeau Field (8:15 p.m. ET, Fox), they’re the story again.

But for a much different reason.

Cue the video of the postgame handshake from the Packers’ last-second win over the 49ers in Week 3.

Even before “The Handshake,” there was talk of bad blood between the two stemming from the 49ers’ run at Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers last offseason. While both downplayed it before and after the game, few came away convinced that all was peachy between the two. It will no doubt be a topic of conversation all week.

The coaching relationship isn’t the only thing that has changed about this matchup.

The Week 3 game – which the Packers won with two Rodgers-to-Davante Adams completions and a 51-yard Mason Crosby walk-off field goal all in the final 37 seconds and without a timeout – was the start of the ugliest stretch of the season for the 49ers. It was the beginning of a three-game losing streak and five losses in six games.

But San Francisco is 8-2 in its last 10 games, including Sunday’s 23-16 upset of the third-seeded Dallas Cowboys on the road in the wild-card round.

The two biggest differences in the 49ers since the Packers saw them on Sept. 26 are their quarterback, Jimmy Garoppolo, and their running game.

Packers cornerback Jaire Alexander intercepted Garoppolo in Week 3, one of eight games this season in which he threw at least one interception. Garoppolo was 2-6 in those games and 7-0 in games without one. He was much more efficient in the second half of the season. From Week 10 until the end of the regular season, Garoppolo ranked seventh in the NFL in Total QBR and second in yards per pass attempt.

The Packers also didn’t have to face 49ers leading rusher Elijah Mitchell, who missed the game because of a shoulder injury. The 49ers ran for only 67 yards on 21 carries. Mitchell, who led the 49ers in rushing with 963 yards in 11 games and tied for 12th in the NFL with a 4.7-yard average carry, rushed for 96 yards and a touchdown against the Cowboys on Sunday. While the Packers ranked 11th in the NFL in rushing defense (109.1 yards per game), they were 30th in rushing yards allowed per carry (giving up 4.7 yards a rush).

This will be the fifth meeting between LaFleur and Shanahan since the start of the 2019 season. The previous four, including playoffs, were all at the 49ers’. LaFleur lost both in the 2019 season – 37-8 in the regular season and 37-20 in the NFC Championship Game – but won in 2020 (34-17) and in the Week 3 game this season (30-28).

There’s also the weather element. The weekend forecast for Saturday is a high of 21 and a low of 3 degrees. The previous four meetings in Northern California had kickoff temperatures of 69, 78, 58 and 63 degrees.

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Denver Broncos’ next coach must fix an offense that has rarely reached 30 points in seven seasons – Denver Broncos Blog



ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — Somewhere, somehow, the person the Denver Broncos pick to be the team’s next head coach will have to hire a quality staff, find a real estate agent, get ready to face an increasingly impatient fanbase and oh, find about another 90 points or so for the offense when he unpacks.

Because the Broncos offense hasn’t really scored at a playoff-worthy level since 2014 when Peyton Manning was the quarterback. A year after, even with Manning in his final season, it needed a generational defense to win Super Bowl 50. Denver scored a yawn-inducing 335 points in its 17 games this season, an average of 19.7 points per game.

It was the seventh consecutive year the Broncos have not averaged at least 23 points per game, the sixth consecutive year they haven’t reached 21 points per game. And that scoreboard has now cost two head coaches and four offensive coordinators their jobs on the way to six consecutive playoff misses.

“We just haven’t been able to get over the top here of late,” is how Vic Fangio put it days before he was fired. “We haven’t scored a lot of points. We haven’t had rhythm in either the running game or the passing game on the early downs, and we haven’t been able to convert the third downs at a good enough clip. Your question is valid. It’s been a little difficult.”

A view of this year’s playoff field was just the lastest example of the hurdle the Broncos face in yet another makeover. Twelve of the 14 teams that made the playoffs this season scored at least 400 points — a 23.5 points per game average — while two (Dallas and Tampa Bay) cracked the 500-point barrier (more than a 29.4 points per game average).

All six division champions scored at least 450 points (26.5 points per game) and the only two teams in the playoff field who didn’t score at least 400 points (Pittsburgh and Las Vegas) didn’t make it into this past weekend’s wild-card round until the regular-season’s final week.

The league’s scoring leader this season — Dallas — scored at least 30 points in a game eight times this season, while the Broncos haven’t topped 30 points more than four times in any season since 2014. Over the last seven years they’ve had four seasons — 2016, 2017, 2018 and 2019 — when they’ve had just one game when they’ve scored at least 30 and two seasons (2015 and 2021) when they’ve had just two such games.

Which is why all of the 10 candidates the Broncos have requested permission to interview, whether their coaching backgrounds are primarily on offense or defense, better have a detailed plan to find those lost points. The Broncos have already interviewed three coaches in the past week: Detroit Lions defensive coordinator Aaron Glenn, Green Bay Packers offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett and Packers quarterbacks coach Luke Getsy.

“If they’re a defensive-minded coach, they’re going to have talk about their plan — they’re offensive coordinator and his coaching staff and what his vision is with our personnel,” said general manager George Paton.

Paton did tip his hand a bit on the offense he envisions for the Broncos with the original list of candidates. All six of the assistant coaches from the offensive side of the ball are currently working a version of the West Coast offense, including the Packers’ and Rams’ versions, which have direct ties to former Broncos coach Mike Shanahan. Rams coach Sean McVay and Packers coach Matt LaFleur were both on Shanahan’s Washington staff.

And Cincinnati Bengals offensive coordinator Brian Callahan was on the Broncos’ staff for the Super Bowl 50 win when long-time Shanahan assistant Gary Kubiak was the team’s head coach.

Paton said, repeatedly the day he fired Fangio, the team will pick a head coach based on “leadership” as well as a detailed repair plan for the offense long before he decides what the team will do at quarterback.

“I know how important that position is,” Paton said of the impending quarterback search. “It’s the most important position in sports, but we’re focused on the coach. If you can get the right leader — that’s the most important thing right now is getting the right leader — we’ll get the quarterback … we’ll focus on the quarterback at a different time.”

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