Joe Montana was the last NFL player to win the MVP while having missed three games in a season.
He did so in 1989, and since then only two players who won the award missed two games in their MVP season: Running backs Emmitt Smith (1993) and Marshall Faulk (2000).
The precedent for Arizona Cardinals quarterback Kyler Murray to win MVP has not been there in a very long time. Yet, many sportsbooks have Murray third or fourth in the current race despite having missed three games with a high-ankle sprain.
SISportsbook.com has Murray tied for the third-best odds at +700 behind Tampa Bay’s Tom Brady at +150 and Green Bay’s Aaron Rodgers at +550.
The case for him is tangible.
He leads the league in completion percentage, yards per pass attempt and passer rating.
Most important, he’s on the best team in the NFL by record.
“Obviously, the team stuff for me it holds true,” Murray told reporters Thursday. “Whenever we’ve been good as a team, we’ve won as a team, every guy gets what they deserve on the team. I’ve been a part of some great teams in my football career so a lot of guys have won awards. So I believe that is true.”
The last eight MVPs have been quarterbacks of teams that have won at least 11 games to finish atop their divisions.
Barring a collapse, the Cardinals will be in that boat.
Murray has been a master of creating plays when there are seemingly not ones there, and he has stepped up late in games.
Had wide receiver A.J. Green turned around on the final play in Week 8 against the Green Bay Packers, Murray could be undefeated as a starter this year.
This is all for a team that has not made the playoffs since 2015, which is part of receiver Christian Kirk’s case for Murray.
“It starts not only with what he’s done this year, but how he’s changed this team, this organization,” Kirk said. “Since we brought him in here, all he has done is gotten us better as a team and led the way.
“To be able to control the ball, be efficient with it, not turn it over but still be explosive with his arm and his legs. I think he’s the total package.”
The issue alongside his time missed is that Brady and Rodgers are ahead of him at many sportsbooks.
They represent the No. 2 and No. 3 teams in the NFC standings, which are both one game back of Arizona.
The Cardinals’ ability to hold them off will affect the MVP battle.
Big games on bright stages could also propel Murray. He has one this week.
The Cardinals face the Los Angeles Rams on Monday Night Football in Glendale.
“Everyone’s on their couch, even the players across the league, not just the fans,” edge rusher Chandler Jones said. “Even the players across the league to get an opportunity to actually watch.”
Monday is Arizona’s first chance to clinch a playoff spot with a victory.
It can also essentially put the division away. A win would have the Cardinals three games ahead of the Rams with the tie-breaker and only four weeks to play.
Head coach Kliff Kingsbury knows his quarterback is equipped to win games under these bright lights.
“He’s probably more familiar with that type of scenario than I am,” Kingsbury said. “He won the Heisman, and I remember he had a huge game against West Virginia on national TV up there and played great, had 500 yards or something like that. When you have those moments, it definitely moves the meter.
“I think you’ve seen that throughout the season with different names that have been mentioned for that award, it kind of comes with the big performances and big showcase games. I’m sure he’ll go out and do what he does every week.”
The game Kingsbury was referencing was on Nov. 24, 2018, when Murray led Oklahoma to a 59-56 victory. He passed and ran for 478 yards, completing 20-of-27 passes for 364 yards and three touchdowns, while adding 114 yards rushing and a touchdown.
Murray has built up accolades at every level of his football career.
He already has set several Cardinals records for his running and passing in under three years.
Even being mentioned as a possibility for the MVP is a whole new honor, though.
“As far as being mentioned up there with Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers, those types of guys, those are guys you look up to, best to ever play the game,” Murray said. “So, it’s definitely an honor. And, hopefully, I can keep playing at a high level.”
It will be difficult for Murray to catch up. Both longtime veterans are playing very high-level football and only Rodgers has sat out one game this year.
Unless they miss time, Murray will trail them in statistical totals by the end of the year.
But for the young Cardinal to be in the same conversation with those greats is a sign he has entered a new tier of NFL quarterbacks.
One game at a time, he and the Cardinals will look to finish off the season as strong as possible. The chips will fall where they may afterward.