Cardinals safety Budda Baker forces a fumble and recovers it in the first half on Sunday.
HOUSTON – Budda Baker had to wait more than half a season to enter the starting lineup for the Cardinals.
The rookie safety doesn’t look like he will be leaving any time soon.
Baker showed why General Manager Steve Keim traded up to nab him on draft day, flying all over the field in Sunday afternoon’s 31-21 loss to the Texans.
Baker finished the contest with 13 tackles, a sack, two forced fumbles, a fumble recovery, a tackle for loss and a pass breakup. He took over a full-time role for the first time this week after Tyvon Branch went down with a season-ending injury in Week 10 against the Seahawks.
“I thought Budda played his tail off,” coach Bruce Arians said. “Just from the sideline, making the plays he made. He’s going to be a heck of a player.”
Baker’s most impactful play came in the second quarter, when he blitzed off the edge and sacked Houston quarterback Tom Savage, who lost control of the ball. Baker recovered it, setting up the Cardinals’ first touchdown – a 20-yard strike from Blaine Gabbert to Larry Fitzgerald – two plays later.
“Coming off the edge, I know he didn’t really see me,” Baker said. “I just tried to go for the ball. Luckily I got the ball.”
Baker also had a key third-down pass breakup in the fourth quarter, celebrating by flipping up from the turf onto his feet without using his hands. That type of athleticism has been apparent since training camp, and Baker showed he was up to speed mentally.
He had a little trouble getting lined up after taking over for Branch last week, but looked comfortable against Houston.
“Throughout the week I got all the (starter’s) reps, so that helped a lot,” Baker said. “Once it’s game-time, you just get to play.”
Baker continued to excel on special teams in addition to his play-making on defense. He helped pin the Texans at their 1 by knocking the ball back before he went into the end zone on a punt, and added another tackle. It was a big leap in workload, but Baker said the coaches did a good job of giving him breathers when needed, although that wasn’t often.
“You have so much adrenaline,” Baker said. “I didn’t really feel tired.”
Baker’s day was impressive, but it left him wanting more because of the result on the scoreboard. It’s hard to imagine many days better than this, but that’s the goal for Baker moving forward.
“You always feel like you can help the team out with making more plays,” Baker said.