Jordan Phillips Makes Most of Chance to Play Monday
When Arizona Cardinals defensive tackle Jordan Phillips proclaimed he was "already there" in terms of his ascent to the "upper echelon of defensive tackles," as asked by one reporter, in August, he was unequivocal in his confidence. In his mind, it was not a question that needed asking.
"I can play all downs, I'm really good in the run, I'm really good in the pass, I can run down screens, I have a great motor," Phillips said at the time. "So, to say I'm not up there is behind me already. Now, I've just got to go out there and prove it again."
Phillips is doing just that in his first season with the Cardinals after signing a three-year, $30 million deal with the franchise in the offseason. He broke out with the Buffalo Bills last year to the tune of 31 tackles (25 solo, six assisted) and 9.5 sacks in 16 games played, including nine starts. This season for Arizona, Phillips had posted seven tackles (all solo), two sacks, one tackle for loss, pass breakup, quarterback hit and forced fumble in five games played (all starts). Monday night on prime time against the Dallas Cowboys, Phillips showed up again.
Yet, it was a game in which he originally was not supposed to suit up for. Tragedy struck the Phillips' family Oct. 12 when his father, George, died at the age of 56-years-old. Funeral services were prepared for this past weekend and, due to NFL COVID-19 policies this season, Phillips was initially told he would not be able to attend and then play Monday.
“The NFL is wanting me to pick between playing in my Monday night game this week or going to my dad’s funeral with the new Covid(-19) protocols," tweeted Phillips, before later deleting it. "Can’t do both, these rules crazy.”
According to ESPN's Josh Weinfuss, Cardinals owner Michael Bidwill arranged for Phillips to take a private plane to and from his father's funeral in order for him not to miss any of the required coronavirus tests. It gave Phillips — who did not practice at the team's Saturday session — an opportunity to make it back to Arizona in time to fly with the team to Dallas.
Phillips was in Wichita, Kansas, for the funeral Saturday morning, per Mark Dalton, the team's senior vice president of media relations.
“Appreciate the front office for finding a solution to the problem," Phillips tweeted. "Thanks Michael Bidwill. Top notch organization.”
With his emotions in flux and an opportunity in hand, Phillips was a menace in Dallas Monday. He registered two solo tackles, a forced fumble on Dallas running back Ezekiel Elliott and a fumble recovery on one caused by safety Budda Baker. It was the first time in his career Phillips recorded both a forced fumble and recovery in the same game. His effort was pivotal in the team's 38-10 thrashing of the Cowboys.
"At the end of the day, I've got a job," Phillips said after the win. "We're pros. Tragedies happen, but it's part of life and you just roll with the punches and then you go to work."
Phillips' inspired performance resonated with the team. The fact that he was as motivated as he was to play in the first place was meaningful in itself.
"That meant a lot to all of us," Cardinals head coach Kliff Kingsbury said after the game. "Had a tough family situation, obviously took some time, came back and played inspired football. And all our guys knew what he was going through and really appreciated how he was able to handle that and still come back and have a heck of a game. Caused a fumble, recovered and he's really fit in well."
For his effort, Phillips was the recipient of one of the team's game balls, an honor given to top performers. Quarterback Kyler Murray, wide receiver Christian Kirk and Baker all received one as well.
Phillips was observed participating in the team's Wednesday and Thursday practices during the portion open up to the media. In the buildup to the game, his teammates and coaches were instrumental in providing the emotional support they felt necessary during his time of struggle.
“The d-line is a pretty tight group,” nose tackle and team captain Corey Peters said Saturday. “We discussed what's going on with him and just tried to support him any way we can emotionally. Obviously, losing somebody is always tough. It's always great when an organization can step in and help him be with his real family and also be back with us, his football family, for the game.
“With COVID going on right now, it's a lot of protocols in place. And it's just great that the NFL, the [Players' Association], the team, has been able to get together and figure out a scenario where he can handle his responsibilities with his family, and also be here with us as well. We're going to just continue to pray for him and his family and hope that everything is going all right.”
For the organization's brass, figuring out a way to get their star defensive lineman on the field in arguably the most prominent game of the season to date was a motivating factor. But Bidwill has a reputation for aiding his players in their times of need. This was just another example.
“It's a great relief,” Cardinals general manager Steve Keim said Friday during his weekly appearance on the Doug & Wolf show on Arizona Sports 98.7 FM. “And it's honestly a tribute to our owner, Michael Bidwill, who behind the scenes — and doesn't want any credit — does so many things in the community and for our players and our families. That means so much. Hats off to the organization. And, most importantly, hats off to Michael and really how he treats people and how he runs this organization.”
For Phillips, being available for his team is extremely important. Even in overwhelmingly negative circumstances, he found a way to channel his emotion into productivity on the gridiron.
"It was another game," Phillips said. "It was good to get the W. We came out and we played hard as a team. We had a lot of juice, a lot of energy. A lot of guys had a lot of great games today. It was nice."