Linebacker Alex Okafor returns an interception Sunday against the Chiefs.
Alex Okafor has been the Cardinals' most consistent edge pass-rusher since overcoming an early-season injury, and now he's expanding the repertoire.
The second-year linebacker has seven sacks in 10 games this season, tied with defensive end Calais Campbell for the team lead. He had another one in Sunday's 17-14 victory over the Chiefs, but that's not what he's going to remember.
Okafor also came down with a critical third-quarter interception which halted a Kansas City drive and set up the ensuing go-ahead
26-yard touchdown strike from Drew Stanton to Jaron Brown. Okafor rushed the quarterback on the play, but seeing how he wouldn't get to Alex Smith, decided to drop back into short coverage.
Defensive tackle Frostee Rucker provided the pressure and Okafor slipped into Smith's passing lane. While Okafor looked like a natural by easily securing the pass, he's actually the exact opposite. Okafor said this was the first interception of his career, and he didn't just mean NFL. Nothing in college, high school, not even Pop Warner.
"Nowhere," Okafor said. "It was a special moment."
Okafor returned the pick 26 yards to the Kansas City 42. The play before, Kansas City tight end Anthony Fasano caught a touchdown pass but it was called back for offensive pass interference. Once the Cardinals scored, it ended up being a 15-point swing, which may have been the difference in the game.
"Oh God, it was huge," coach Bruce Arians said. "We needed a big play right there."
Okafor clarified postgame that it hasn't been a case of stone hands which made this such a long wait.
"I've always had my hand in the dirt," he said. "Big guys like that don't get the opportunity very often."
Now that his feet are wet, he's ready to improve the return part of it. Okafor lamented his inability to make a cut-back, and his teammates let him know Smith, a quarterback, was the one who forced him out of bounds.
"I've got to worry about getting it in the end zone afterwards," Okafor said.
REPLAY CHALLENGE PAYS OFF AGAIN FOR CARDINALS
Arians made a heady challenge call when he got a long punt return overturned against the Lions in Week 11, and he may have outdone himself on Sunday.
Arians challenged the ruling of a completed catch to Kansas City tight end Travis Kelce, when a completion would have given the
Chiefs a first-and-10 at the Arizona 23 with 5:31 remaining. Arians saw a possible forced fumble by linebacker Deone Bucannon on the play and threw the flag, which would have burned his last timeout if he was wrong.
While it looked to most like Kelce regained possession after the ball moved, referee Craig Wrolstad said it was still loose.
"We saw that indeed the ball had come loose, he was not down by contact and then if there is a clear recovery, then we can reverse it and give the ball to the defense," Wrolstad told a pool reporter. "And that's what happened."
"He tried to maintain possession, but he did not regain possession," Wrolstad added.
The Chiefs saw it differently. Kelce said he was "shocked" by the overturn and running back Jamaal Charles was still trying to wrap his head around the call postgame.
"I just know he was down on the ground on his back," Charles said. "How do you fumble the ball when you're down on the ground?"
CATANZARO UNHAPPY WITH FIELD GOAL EXECUTION
Rookie kicker Chandler Catanzaro was mad at himself for missing after a pair of goals, the first time he's missed more than one in
a game this season. He connected from 44, 33 and 39 yards but missed a 36-yarder right before halftime and a 34-yarder which would have pushed the lead to six points with 1:14 to play.
"The preparation was good, the warm-up was good, it felt good, the leg feels good," Catanzaro said. "It's just a lack of execution on my part come game time on those two misses. Those are inexcusable."
Catanzaro started his career making 17 straight but has since gone 5-of-9. Arians wasn't concerned postgame, joking about the two misses bouncing off the uprights.
"He hit them great, he just hit them into the post," Arians said.
CROMARTIE'S INJURY LESS SEVERE THAN FEARED
Cornerback Antonio Cromartie left the game with a foot injury early in the fourth quarter. He was carted to the locker room for examination and the initial fear was an Achilles injury, which will often shelve players for a significant amount of time, but it wasn't that.
"His Achilles looks in good shape, so we'll keep our fingers crossed," Arians said.
Cromartie will have more tests done to pinpoint the exact nature of the injury and how long it will keep him out.
Linebacker Matt Shaughnessy left the game on Kansas City's next possession with a shoulder injury and didn't return. It was his first game back after an eight-week stint on injured reserve with a knee injury.