Two seems to be a magic number in the Arizona desert.
The Cardinals currently boast four wins, a multiple of two, and twice as many wins as losses (two) through six weeks. Arizona forced four turnovers — also a multiple of two — Monday night in its victory over Dallas.
And thanks to the play of two former second-round picks, the Cardinals are soaring above the winds of victory on Tuesday. Safety Budda Baker was all over the field against Dallas, recording seven tackles, a sack, a forced fumble and a diving interception. His tackle of Ezekiel Elliott forced the first of two Elliott fumbles in the game, and produced Arizona’s first touchdown of the night in a game that eventually became a romp for the Cardinals.
“He is everywhere,” coach Kliff Kingsbury said, via the team’s official website. “You watch the game, and ’32’ shows up in every situation, all night. Such a tremendous player.”
Baker received a four-year, $59 million extension in August, raising plenty of eyebrows belonging to those who hadn’t seen elite-level play from the safety in his first three seasons. But on Monday night, Baker proved the Cardinals right in both selecting him in the second round of the 2017 draft out of Washington — where he was a consensus All-American and two-time first-team All-Pac-12 honoree — and in paying him handsomely.
“Budda,” defensive tackle Jordan Phillips said, “is worth every penny.”
Monday night was special for Arizona because of Baker’s play, but also because he wasn’t alone. Another second-round selection made by general manager Steve Keim, this time in 2018, made his own mark when Baker was watching from the sideline.
Receiver Christian Kirk caught two passes for 86 yards and two touchdowns Monday night, with 80 of those yards coming in one second-quarter shot.
While Baker celebrated his forced fumble with his teammates, Cardinals quarterback Kyler Murray dropped to pass and found Kirk over the middle for his first score of the night from six yards out. Eight minutes later, Kirk burst up the seam into a vast expanse of green turf, turning his head to locate a pass from Murray speeding toward him.
At the last second, Kirk reached out and snagged the missile from Murray with his fingertips, nearly allowing his momentum to force him to the ground before regaining his balance in stride and sprinting to the end zone for an 80-yard score.
“That’s the late hands trick,” Kingsbury said of Kirk’s grab, via team writer Kyle Odegard. “That’s why he was able to stay on his feet. If you have early hands, your body goes with you and you usually dive for the ball. He went late hands.”
Kirk’s catch resulted in his second touchdown in as many receptions. Talk about efficiency.
“It’s something about the bright lights,” Kirk said of his performance. “When the bright lights come on, the cream of the crop rises.”
The cream of Keim’s consecutive draft crops rose to the top on Monday night, helping the Cardinals dominate the Cowboys on the national stage. At 4-2, Arizona finds itself in the thick of a competitive race for the NFC West crown.
Should its investments continue to pay off in the weeks ahead, folks might start to easily recognize the names of the two former second-rounders. On this night, they were impossible to overlook.