The speech wasn't overly emotional, because Budda Baker isn't overly emotional. Still, it resonated in a locker room that was simmering in a three-game losing streak, the talk the Pro Bowl safety and captain gave to his teammates last week.
"He really got everybody, not just the defense, in on this thing," tight end Dan Arnold said. " 'It's a last-ditch effort, we've got to give it our all.' "
Said quarterback Kyler Murray, "It was more of a 'look in the mirror' type of deal. We know what we can be."
If there was any looking in the mirrors in the MetLife visitor's locker room after Sunday's 26-7 drubbing of the New York Giants, the reflection had to be one of smiles. There was little reason for anything else.
The Cardinals (7-6) climbed back into a playoff spot with three games left, thanks to their win and the Vikings' loss to the Buccaneers. The defense dominated, sacking New York QBs eight times and holding the previously NFC East-leading Giants (5-8) to 159 yards. Special teams came up with a turnover, several good punt returns and a good day (4-for-4 field goals) from replacement kicker Mike Nugent.
And the offense, much-maligned of late, founds its way, thanks in part to a rushing game that battered the NFL's fourth-ranked rush defense for 159 yards and DeAndre Hopkins' sixth 100-yard game of the year.
"It's fun when you're winning," Murray said. "That's what it comes down to."
Haason Reddick, the New Jersey native playing in his backyard, set a franchise record with five sacks, besting the four teammate Chandler Jones had in the same stadium last season against the Giants. It also doubled Reddick's total for the season, up to a team-leading 10.
"Hopefully it sparks something," said Reddick, who also had three forced fumbles. "When you looked at us in practice, the energy was different, the intensity was crazy, and I felt like everybody knew it was a game that we needed."
Pass-rush specialist Dennis Gardeck added two sacks of his own, and Markus Golden started the whole thing with a first possession strip-sack that he recovered against the team for which he was playing in mid-October.
"Markus set the tone, which was kind of poetic," coach Kliff Kingsbury said.
The irony was that the Cardinals didn't score after Golden's fumble return, flaming out on a fourth-and-goal try from the 1. Despite the defense dominating early, the Cardinals actually had a tough time finding the end zone, until Murray – with three Giants rushers bearing down on him and him backpedaling quickly, lobbed a ball to the back of the end zone where the 6-foot-6 Arnold hauled it in for his third touchdown in two games.
"I tell Kyler every day at practice, if you're going to throw it to me, just throw it where only I can go up and get it," Arnold said.
Given that the drive started on a short field thanks to Kylie Fitts' forced fumble on a Giants punt return, the Cards needed a touchdown and Arnold's catch "kind of kickstarted things," Murray said.
It ended up being the winning points because of the way Vance Joseph's unit played. Giants quarterback Daniel Jones, unable to move much all day because of a bad hamstring, couldn't get away from the pass rush (although the Cards' good coverage made Jones hold the ball too long on a few of the sacks.) Jones completed only 11-of-21 passes for 127 yards before Colt McCoy came in for a few plays at the end.
Murray, meanwhile, rejoiced in a defense that wasn't mush-rushing like the previous three weeks, allowing him some lanes to run and scramble. He had 13 carries for 47 yards (and three of those attempts, for minus-5, came on kneeldowns at the end) in addition to 24-of-35 passing for 244 yards and no turnovers.
Murray found Hopkins nine times for 136 yards, Nuk's first 100-yard game since the Hail Murray.
It wasn't perfect. "There's still a lot out there, I feel like," Murray said – but Kingsbury said the Cardinals didn't adjust much on offense, instead just gameplanning like they normally do and getting a higher level of execution.
The Cardinals also may be dealing with some injuries, after defensive lineman Jordan Phillips, who just came off Injured Reserve, reinjured his hamstring early in the game and did not return.
"To come in here and do it in that fashion, I believe, will build confidence," Kingsbury said. "Our guys understand we have a talented team. We just had to find a way to put one together. I thought each side rose up today."