Cardinals money linebacker Deone Bucannon (20) breaks up a pass to Giants wide receiver Roger Lewis last weekend.
The message comes from his position coach Larry Foote, or from his parents, hoping that Deone Bucannon retains some perspective.
"Sometimes I've got to remember football is what I do, not who I am," the money linebacker said.
That can be difficult sometimes, especially when Bucannon is without the game – like earlier this season, when offseason ankle reconstruction surgery kept him out of the offseason work, training camp and the first three games of the regular season.
It took a chunk of the season, but the Cardinals are again seeing what they once did out of their 2014 first-round pick. He dominated during Sunday's shutout win over the Giants, gathering
eight tackles, a pass defensed and a strip-sack of Eli Manning that teammate Robert Nkemdiche returned for a touchdown.
"How he played Sunday, that's the Deone we know," defensive coordinator James Bettcher said. "Flying around, around the football, in a lot of cases, not even supposed to be where he is, but his effort and motor make up for everything else."
Bucannon said the turning point might have been a second ankle injury – when he got it trapped under a lineman against the Jaguars Dec. 3. At first, there was concern it was another serious setback. Bucannon did miss a game with a sprain, but he said the play actually turned out to be fortuitous, since it ended up loosening the significant scar tissue that had built up since his surgery.
The Cardinals have been hammered by injuries all season, but they have also had to deal with players not quite at full strength because of previous injuries – like Tyrann Mathieu and Bucannon.
"They said it would take some time and now I'm starting to feel everything is coming together," said Bucannon, who discussed ankle rehab with teammates Frostee Rucker and Troy Niklas, as well as overall rehab mentality with Mathieu. "I'm starting to trust it."
General Manager Steve Keim said it not only was Bucannon's best game of the season, it might have been Bucannon's best game as a Cardinal.
Bucannon said he'd prefer not to talk much more about the injury, because it feels like excuse-making. But he couldn't disagree with Keim's assessment. The ankle had been an issue since early in the 2016 season – long before he was shut down for the season – and the Giants' game was a flashback to how Bucannon played in 2015.
"I'm not big for individual stuff," Bucannon said. "I just want to be the best I can be for the team and make as many plays as possible. I still need to progress and build on my game. But I agree, all around, the game was a great game for me. Not only for me. We got a shutout."
A CHANCE AT .500
The Cardinals, if they win Sunday in Seattle, would finish .500 at 8-8. For Arians, it would be a
notable achievement given not only the Cardinals' long injury list but the prominent names that dot it.
"(The assistant) coaches worked their tails off this year," Arians said. "My hat's off to our assistant coaches, all of them. To deal with the injuries and put the guys in and get them ready to play and give them a chance to win some games, they did a great job."
Under the same reasoning, Arians said that would be reason to call the season "a successful one."
"Again I credit all the assistant coaches," Arians said. "To go .500 with all those guys down, it's a testament of the character of the coaches and the players in the locker room."
CARDINALS COULD GET PLAYERS BACK SUNDAY
Arians didn't rule anyone out for Sunday's game in Seattle, noting that linebacker Josh Bynes (ankle)—who didn't practice – is making progress and will be a game-day decision. Also potential returns this week are tight end Troy Niklas (ankle) and guard Earl Watford (ankle), who returned to practice this week. If Watford can play, it would be interesting to see if the Cards drop him back in the starting lineup.
The final injury report will be released later today.
Images of key players for this week's opponent, the Seattle Seahawks