GLENDALE, Ariz. — When Arizona Cardinals safety Budda Baker secured his second interception of the season Sunday in stride near the goal line and sprinted past Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson down the left sideline, he likely anticipated making a house call. After all, he ran a 4.45-second 40-yard dash at the 2017 NFL Scouting Combine and is not typically outrun in the open field.
Until Sunday, when Baker met his match. As he streaked down the sideline and past Wilson, whom he just picked off, Baker believed he was in the clear. Yet, with the end zone merely feet away, he was tackled short. How so?
Enter Seahawks wide receiver DK Metcalf, who ran a 4.33-second 40-yard dash at the 2019 Combine. Immediately following Baker's interception, Metcalf turned upfield and inevitably caught up to the sprinting Baker before tackling him short of what would have been a 98-yard pick-six.
"It was a nice leg tackle," Baker admitted postgame. "I just took a shot and I saw the ball in the air, caught it. I just saw Russell, so I was running, next thing you know I look up and I see this big (No.) 14 coming after me. He got me. That was the first time I've ever been hawked in my entire life, so I'm going to be working on my speed."
Per the NFL's Next Gen Stats, Metcalf reached a top speed of 22.64 mph and traveled 114.8 yards to chase down Baker on the 90-yard interception return. Baker's top speed during the run reached 21.27 mph. It represented the second-fastest speed reached this season, behind only San Francisco 49ers running back Raheem Mostert's 23.09 mph.
"It was an inspiring play, nobody could miss it," Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll said. "Everybody that was watching that play — whether you like football or not — you could see that was something extraordinary and I've just never seen one quite like that."
In real time, it appeared as if Baker had a clear and unobstructed path to the end zone. In Cardinals head coach Kliff Kingsbury's mind, a score was inevitable, until it was not.
"I did (think Baker would score) until that huge stallion of a human came galloping out of nowhere," he said. "But phenomenal anticipation by him. DK Metcalf is an absolute freak athlete and what an effort play by him. High school coaches will be showing that one for years. Just don't give up on a play."
Metcalf's efforts were soon rewarded on Arizona's ensuing offensive possession from inside the Seahawks 5-yard line as Seattle's defense was able to stop the Cardinals on two plays from 2-yard line and one from the 3-yard line, causing a turnover on downs after the franchise's first failed fourth-down conversion of the season. Prior to Murray's incompletion, the Cardinals were 5-for-5 on fourth down. It was also the first time this season the Cardinals failed to score any points on a red-zone possession.
Meanwhile, Baker proved yet again why he was deserving of becoming the highest-paid safety in the NFL with an all-around performance in prime time. He finished with a game-high 14 tackles (11 solo, three assisted) and the interception.
In the end, the lack of point production off Baker's momentum-shifting play proved irrelevant as the Cardinals eked out a 37-34 victory on a last-second, 48-yard field goal from kicker Zane Gonzalez. Yet, having the extra insurance policy would have gone a long way in easing anxiety across the board.
"I wish somebody would've located DK and just kind of held him, but it's a great effort play by him," Murray said. "And then obviously for Budda to read that and make that interception, that's a that's a huge deal for us."
So, who is to blame for Metcalf escaping with a free sprinting lane to attack Baker? Look no further than the defensive back who shadowed him the whole game, resulting in a two-reception, 23-yard performance.
"I was actually guarding DK," cornerback Patrick Peterson said. "... As soon as Budda caught the ball, DK took off. And DK is, man, that's one fast young man right there I'll tell you because I was on my horses trying to get in front of him to help Budda get to the end zone. But I'm 10 years in, he's two, so he's a little bit fresher than me. But that was a great effort to save a touchdown and obviously helping those guys get a turnover on downs. That was a big play in the game and a great effort by him, but what a great play by Budda as well."