KANSAS CITY, Mo. – Chiefs third-string quarterback Aaron Murray knew he was playing Friday night against the Tennessee Titans.
But his focus fell on the second half as part of a game plan that originally called for the starters to go into the third quarter before giving way to the backups.
The Chiefs coaching staff changed that decision late in the second quarter after cruising to a 17-3 lead. And Murray, not primary backup Chase Daniel, entered the game in place of Alex Smith with 3:59 remaining in the first half.
“They came and told me, ‘Hey, you might get in, be prepared this half,’” Murray said. “So kind of got ready, warmed up a little bit and went out there and played.”
Murray’s first three snaps, however, proved a roller coaster.
His first pass attempt fell incomplete, the second was a 13-yard completion to rookie wide receiver Chris Conley, and the third resulted in an interception while attempting to connect with wide receiver Jeremy Maclin.
Chalk it up to nerves and the excitement of the moment.
“Oh man, I was way too juiced up,” Murray said. “I got out there and I was going a little too crazy, I had to calm down a little bit. I told the guys in there I just got it out of my system. Guys were like, ‘Oh, don’t worry about it.’ I was like, ‘Hey, I’m fine. I got it out of my system; I’m ready to rock and roll now.’”
Murray, who logged a career-high 31 preseason snaps Friday night, definitely settled down in the second half. He finished the game completing 10 of 12 passes for 81 yards and two touchdowns with the interception, adding 12 yards rushing on one attempt, during the Chiefs’ 34-10 rout of the Titans.
Murray’s signature play came early in the fourth quarter when he recognized a blitz up the middle, rolled out of the pocket to his right to avoid trouble, and then threw a beautiful 29-yard touch pass on the move to wide receiver Fred Williams for a touchdown.
He would again connect with Williams for a 4-yard touchdown pass on the Chiefs’ next possession.
Throughout the contest, Murray had a welcoming committee consisting of Smith and Daniel waiting on the sideline and willing to offer advice.
“They helped me out so much this year and a half,” Murray said. “Every time I came to the sideline, they were going through the film with me, ‘This is what they’re blitzing, be prepared for this. If this happens, what you should do.’ Those guys are awesome.’
Daniel was thrilled to see Murray excel with the extended playing time.
“We’re so happy for him,” Daniel said. “He trusts us in what we’re seeing. He’s coming off (the field) asking us, ‘What do you see? How can I do this? What can I do better?’ I call him like a sponge; he just wants to learn and soak up as much stuff as he can. He played well tonight.”
Murray had an opportunity to briefly work with the first-team offense late in the first half, and that was by design before playing with the second-team unit to close the game.
“I wanted to get him with the ones,” coach Andy Reid said. “That is one thing that I haven’t done. I’ve been able to do it in the regular season with Chase, but I haven’t had a chance to do it with Murray. Give him an opportunity to get in there with the one line and the receivers and tight end, and let him play.”
Reid inserting a third-string quarterback with the starting unit during the third preseason isn’t unheard of.
The head coach did the exact thing in 2014 against the Minnesota Vikings when Tyler Bray replaced Smith and finished the game, and Reid made it clear there is no change to the depth chart.
“No,” Reid said emphatically. “Don’t read into it.”
What can be read into surrounds Murray’s performance, which should go a long way in building confidence for the coaching staff.
The coaches are certainly getting a good look at the second-year pro, who has totaled 68 snaps through three preseason games. He totaled 49 snaps in four preseason games in 2014.
With a productive night in the books, Murray can use his performance against the Titans as another building block while continuing to develop in the Chiefs’ offensive scheme.
“It was a good night,” Murray said. “I just have to keep building on it, keep working, go back and watch the film. I definitely still have a lot to work on.”