One-Handed Budda Baker Excels in First Game as Captain

Howard Balzer

In the first game after the loss of outside linebacker Chandler Jones for the season, it would be an understatement to say safety Budda Baker came up big.

Baker, who was playing his second game after undergoing thumb surgery to repair a torn ulnar collateral ligament in his right thumb after the Week 3 loss against Detroit, was simply "everywhere" in the Cardinals’ 38-10 victory over the Dallas Cowboys Monday night.

Consider this: In the statistical book produced after every NFL game, there are 11 defensive categories. That would be solo tackles, assists, total tackles, sacks, yards, tackles for loss, quarterback hits, interceptions, passes defensed, fumbles forced and fumble recoveries.

A very good night for a player would be making statistical appearances in, perhaps, seven categories. Baker had entries in nine against Dallas and the only two without were assists (because his seven tackles were all solo) and recoveries. He had one sack for seven yards, one tackle for loss, two quarterback hits on Andy Dalton, an interception, a pass defensed and a forced fumble. 

The pick was even more significant considering it was the first of his career.

Yet, the forced fumble was especially important, coming in a scoreless game late in the first quarter. Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott fumbled after a reception via a Dalton shovel pass to avoid a sack at the Arizona 49-yard line.The loose ball was recovered by defensive tackle Jordan Phillips. The Cardinals subsequently took a 7-0 lead after an ensuing 11-play drive.

Baker was coming on an outside blitz, and he said, “I knew their tackles were fanning very hard on me when I came down blitzing. I'm a contained edge rusher, so I had to go outside and those guys got me underneath my pads. (But) I heard Andy Dalton, he was saying, ‘Zeke,’ because I think Zeke wasn't looking. He was like, ‘Zeke, Zeke.’ He dumped it down to Zeke and I knew Zeke didn't see me. I just tried to rip the ball out and luckily it came out. I didn't know it came out until everyone was celebrating.”

As for the interception being his first, Baker said, “I just thought when the ball comes, it's going to come my way. And that was a great opportunity that I had to get the INT and I was very excited when I got it because the first one’s always the hardest one. Now, it's just a matter of they always come in bunches, turnovers come in bunches, and we got a lot of turnovers as a defense today.”

Asked if it’s tricky getting an interception with one hand in a cast, Baker said, “Oh, yeah. Just not being able to squeeze it in. It went right to my body.”

Head coach Kliff Kingsbury was pleased with the play of the defense overall, especially in a week where Jones was lost and it was no sure thing that outside linebackers Devon Kennard (calf) and Dennis Gardeck (foot) would play.

Kingsbury said, “It's tough losing not only a great player, but a great leader, great person, one of the best players in the league. It's never easy, but I thought our guys responded well, and played hard, practiced hard all week. [Defensive coordinator Vance Joseph] and his group had a great plan and executed at a high level. Great energy the entire night, they turned it over four times, which was huge. And that really turned the game for us.”

Outside linebacker Haason Reddick was close to Baker with numbers in eight categories: four solo tackles; one assist; two sacks for 12 lost yards; two tackles for loss; two quarterback hits; and a pass defensed.

Back to Baker, it turns out with Jones — who was labeled a team captain this year — lost for the season, Baker was elected a captain Sunday night. He tweeted after the game, “I was honored to be named a captain last night... had to show out with the C on my chest!! #GoCards #W #Blessed"

When Kingsbury was asked when he knew that Baker didn’t have an interception in his career, he said, “We heard about it last year, but he practices so hard, he works so hard, you knew it's just a matter of time. And so, it was awesome to see him get one tonight. But he is everywhere. You watch the game, (No.) 32 shows up in every situation all night. Just such a tremendous player and a great leader for us.”

Phillips echoed those sentiments, referencing the big contract Baker signed recently that made him the highest paid player at the position in the NFL. 

“Budda is worth every penny,” Phillips said. “He's a captain. He leads this team. He makes a lot of plays. You can feel his energy out there. Not only with his plays, but just the way he handles himself, the way he carries himself. And he's out there (with) one hand and he's still going out there and doing everything that we know he can.”

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