After missing the first game of October after thumb surgery to repair a torn ulnar collateral ligament in his right thumb and playing the other three wearing a cast, unfazed Arizona Cardinals safety Budda Baker won the NFC Defensive Player of the Month award, the league announced Thursday.
After the news dropped, Baker tweeted his response, writing, "We Just getting Started Baby."
His impact when returning after missing Week 4 against Carolina was immediate. He had 10 combined tackles and a sack in his first game against the New York Jets.
The following Monday night in Dallas, Baker's first game after being named a captain following the loss of outside linebacker Chandler Jones (biceps) for the year, he showed out again. Baker won NFC Defensive Player of the Week for his effort, which included a sack, forced fumble and his first interception in the NFL coming against Cowboys quarterback Andy Dalton.
After the game, Baker also said he feels like interceptions come in bunches. Lo and behold, he got another last Sunday night against the Seattle Seahawks in the red zone against quarterback Russell Wilson.
"He's such a student of the game that he anticipates formations and plays and that was no different," Cardinals head coach Kliff Kingsbury said.
He nearly had a 98-yard touchdown return, too, but Seattle receiver DK Metcalf chased him down like a “stallion,” as Kingsbury described it.
"I was running, next thing you know I look up and I see this big (No.) 14 coming after me," Baker said. "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."
In the month of October, Baker had 31 tackles to boost his season total to 59, most in the NFL among defensive backs, doing so while playing in fewer games this year than anyone else in the top five. The 5-foot-10 safety led the league in solo tackles last season and defensive coordinator Vance Joseph attributes this to his willingness to force contact.
"To watch him throw his body around with his size is impressive because the way he hits people and the way he runs through contact is very rare," Joseph said last week. "It's not natural to run full speed through contact, especially people who are larger than you. So, it's a natural trait that he has that most guys don't have."
Baker was the only player in the league with multiple sacks and interceptions in October.
He became the first player in seven years to put up 30 tackles, two sacks, two interceptions and a forced fumble in one month of play, all while missing a game.
Baker is now one of four Cardinals to win Defensive Player of the Month in team history. Jones won the award twice (2017, 2019), safety Tyrann Mathieu did so in 2015 and safety Kwamie Lassiter won in 2001.
It's clear the Cardinals, who made Baker the highest paid safety in football with an extension before the season, are getting their money’s worth.