The Cardinals season was slipping away. Entering the final four games, they were 6-6, outside of the playoff picture and on a three-game losing streak.
Safety and team captain Budda Baker addressed the team before the last week of practice began. On Sunday, the Cardinals won by their biggest margin since Week 6, 26-7 over the New York Giants.
Multiple players said after the win that the week of practice was one of the team’s best this year.
What did Baker say?
"Budda addressed the team last week and really got everybody, not just the defense, in on this thing where it's a last-ditch effort and we have got to give it our all," tight end Dan Arnold said.
"More just like a look-in-the-mirror type of deal," quarterback Kyler Murray said. "We know what we can be, but talk is talk. At this point we got to go out there execute it. Because every game for the rest of season matters for us. We know what we're striving for, but it's week-to-week, day-by-day we have to keep grinding."
Baker stressed to the media during the week that everyone needed to stick to their job on Sunday. When a player was assigned to something, he emphasized that he stick to it and not “work outside of your assignment.”
Even though the Cardinals went from being a division contender to fighting for the final wild-card spot, they still entered Week 14 with a good chance to make the playoffs for the first time in Baker’s career.
Baker’s message that the team had to take every game and practice like the season depended on it seemed to work.
"We had a really good week of practice, and you could just tell the difference; there was some renewed energy," Arnold said. "The whole week, seeing the defense with that energy was awesome to see and more importantly, to translate it on the field was absolutely incredible. I'm really proud of those guys, the way everybody stepped up."
The defense allowed seven points, its fewest since 2017, and just 159 yards of offense. They had eight sacks, forced three fumbles and allowed first downs on just 3 of 12 third-down tries.
Murray said the “vibe” before the game was different, more relaxed. Perhaps with a better week of practice, the Cardinals felt more ready, and Murray said all they had to do was play.
Baker may be a soft-spoken person, but his teammates have made it clear that he commands respect in the locker room.
"I have got to give Budda credit, he got us going earlier in the week and then he came out here and kept us going," linebacker Markus Golden said. "I've got a lot of respect for Budda. I'm glad he's my captain."
Arnold added: "Budda's one of those guys that when he's addressing everybody, you tend to really dial in and listen because he has something really important to say and something that's going to be meaningful for everybody."
Arnold took it a step further by saying Baker is the type of player a team needs to be a champion.
The work isn’t done. The Cardinals own the final wild-card spot by one game after the Vikings lost to Tampa Bay Sunday. With three games remaining, it is still anybody’s race. Now, next week's game against Philadelphia has a different feel after the Eagles upset the 10-2 New Orleans Saints with rookie quarterback Jalen Hurts making his first NFL start.
The Cardinals will need to continue following Baker’s mantra and take that energy back to the practice field this week.