DENVER — Just before the start of the season, running back Latavius Murray was a veteran free agent, patiently waiting for a team to take a chance on him. With nearly a decade of NFL experience under his belt and plenty of gas left in the tank, he knew he could still contribute.
All he had to do was get a call.
After a four-week stint on the Saints' practice squad, Murray finally received the opportunity he had been seeking: The Broncos were in need of a running back after Javonte Williams suffered a season-ending ACL injury, and Murray was in need of a chance to prove that he still had what it takes to be a starting running back in the NFL.
In a magnificent performance against the Cardinals on Sunday, Murray did just that.
The 32-year-old running back rushed for 130 yards — his first time surpassing the 100-yard rushing mark this season — and found the end zone in the Broncos' most-productive rushing game of the year. It was a much-needed performance for the Broncos' offense, but particularly for Murray.
He may have been underestimated at the start of the season, but the veteran has proven that he can still tear up defenses.
"He is the ultimate competitor," safety Justin Simmons said. "I am so appreciative of him. It is crazy how God works. We bring him in over from the Saints. I obviously knew about him and played him earlier on in his career when he was with the Raiders, he was here a few years ago, and I think last year with the Ravens. I have always admired him as a player. It is great to have him in the locker room and be able to get to know him and the competitor that he is. I am really thankful for him. Just how he comes in here every day, selflessly and wants to figure this thing out. He wants to contribute to winning. I am appreciative of him and happy that we have him. I am excited for him to keep leading the offense and find ways for us to close out the rest of the games this season."
It took a while for the Broncos to get the run game going, totaling just 55 rushing yards in the first half, but they came out with force after halftime. Determined to run the ball, they totaled 113 rushing yards and two rushing touchdowns in the second half, with Murray and running back Marlon Mack each finding the end zone.
For Murray, that second-half success was a testament to the team's unwavering belief that the big plays would come.
"[Head] Coach [Nathaniel Hackett] challenged us that second half to step up and start putting drives together, converting on third downs," Murray said. "I think we also trusted the run. I'm going to say it again, it's a mentality. You can't get bored with three-yard runs, two-yard runs sometimes, even the loss [or no] gain. It's easy to get discouraged. You have to trust it. it's a mentality. You have to believe in it and those big ones will come. That was a big part of it, too. We trusted the run game and that opened up the rest of the offense."
The coaching staff has emphasized the importance of establishing the run game all season, and in a stellar rushing performance, Hackett was impressed with how the team battled.
"Watching those guys run the ball was great," Hackett said. "Latavius was on one today. He was over 100 [rushing] yards. Marlon came in and had that great touchdown, I think, from the 3- or 4-yard line. There was great blocking. The tight ends were involved. The wide receivers were blocking. They were pinning on some ends. It takes all 11 to run the football, and you really saw that."
Hackett presented Murray with a game ball in the locker room after his performance, and it was the first game ball of Murray's 10-year career.
"That's actually the first time I got a game ball in the locker room," Murray said. "I think it is, actually. I [have] kind of been acknowledged, but that was the first time I got a game ball in the locker room. … Year 10, [and I'm] still checking things off the list. Let's go. Let's keep it going."
While the Broncos have only won two games since Murray joined the team ahead of Week 5, the veteran expressed gratitude for the opportunity to not only have a starting role again, but to have been wholeheartedly embraced by the players in the locker room.
"I told those guys when we broke [the huddle] that for a guy who came off the street if you will, off the practice squad into a role, I'm out there playing, and they've only known me for a few months now," Murray said. "I wasn't with them in OTAs. I wasn't with them in training camp, but they've embraced me. I really appreciate that. It's not easy. I'm just appreciative of that: [of] the team embracing me. I really have enjoyed playing with this team a lot. I'm just thankful for the guys in that locker room. Thankful that I can go out there and battle with them, and I think that's why it feels even better when you're doing it with guys like that."
Mack also had a strong game in a supporting role, totaling 37 rushing yards, 26 receiving yards and a 10-yard touchdown run. The two veteran running backs complemented each other well throughout the second half, and Mack noted that despite their turbulent journeys in recent years, they both still have what it takes to help their team win.
"We're just a couple old heads in the run game now," Mack said. "We know we can still play this game and still believe in ourselves. Going out there and seeing him work, [I] just know that I have his back and he has my back. We're just going out there and putting in work."
As the Broncos look to close out the season on a high note, Murray noted that this performance could be what the team needs to put the pieces together in the final three games.
"We know we're capable," Murray said. "All it takes is one play, some momentum, to get things going. For us, we just want to start faster. … We've seen the flashes throughout the season, and it's just about putting it together—a complete game and feeding off the defense. They've been playing well all year. Today we did our part, and it felt really good."