Budda Baker spent this season expecting his first child, prepared to miss a game if needed.
That turned out to be unnecessary. Four days after Baker helped the Cardinals beat the Bears in Week 12, his girlfriend, Tiffany Stanfield, gave birth to an 8-pound, 14-ounce daughter. They named her Alani.
"It's crazy to think about," Baker said. "For me, looking at my little girl and thinking like dang, I have a whole other human in my household. It's definitely special."
How much it impacts Baker on the football field is the question -- the All-Pro safety couldn't be any more focused on his game, and Baker was already mature beyond his years.
"As a man, having your first child does change you -- having responsibility for someone's life is huge," defensive coordinator Vance Joseph said. "For me it worked in my favor; it just makes you more focused, it grows you up. You take less chances in life because you have a baby girl. So, for Budda, I think he wants to be a father, he is serious about it, and he's happy."
Despite all occurring in Baker's life, he is focused on helping the Cardinals clinch their first playoff berth since 2015 with a victory over the Lions.
The Cardinals' defense did not have an ideal overall performance on Monday, but Baker said he was proud of their effort. He thought they played hard and made plays, just not generating the big turnovers they're accustomed to making.
As a leader, Baker said he does not have to preach about the importance of putting in the extra work to improve, which is something he likes about his teammates. It's why the safety believes they will be ready to rebound against the Lions, who own the worst record in the conference, on Sunday.
"These guys are pros," Baker said. "They know what's expected in this league. With the team that we are and the record that we have, teams are going to want to beat us. No matter what. Guys know that.
"We always talk about it's about us, and if we do things right nine times out of 10, we win. And for us on the defense, communication is key. We know what to do for every play; if we take it one play at a time, things are going to look good for us."
WATCHING ALFORD'S PECTORAL INJURY
Cornerback Robert Alford remains out of practice with an injured pectoral muscle, and Joseph said he's unsure if Alford will be available Sunday.
"Obviously, he wants to play," Joseph said. "He played most of the game on Monday night, but we'll see. It's kind of up in the air right now."
Alford has been one of the better cornerbacks in the NFL this season, so the Cardinals would have to replace his production. Joseph, however, said their cornerback situation would be fine even if Alford can't play.
"We've got guys we've been training for the last couple of months," Joseph said. "We'll be fine. Hopefully, it's not long-term, and we will get him back soon. But right now, there is no clarity on what it is and how long he will be out."
Running back James Conner (ankle), wideout DeAndre Hopkins (knee), defensive lineman Zach Kerr (ribs), defensive lineman Corey Peters (knee), offensive lineman Justin Pugh (calf/illness) did not practice on Thursday. Defensive lineman Leki Fotu (shoulder) and defensive lineman Jordan Phillips (thumb) were limited.
For the Lions, tight end T.J. Hockenson (hand), offensive lineman Will Holden (personal), offensive lineman Jonah Jackson (back), linebacker Julian Okwara (ankle), running back D'Andre Swift (shoulder) did not practice. Defensive end Michael Brockers (knee), linebacker Jalen Reeves-Maybin (shoulder), wide receiver Josh Reynolds (thigh) were limited.
THE NON-RECOVERED FUMBLE, AND LESSONS LEARNED
With the Cardinals in need of a defensive stop in the third quarter against the Rams, linebacker Chandler Jones came up with a clutch strip-sack. The ball fluttered forward and it was possible it could be seen as an incomplete pass, but Rams quarterback Matthew Stafford was able to race some 15 yards to the sideline to grab it while Cardinals assumed the play was dead.
A couple of plays later the Rams scored to make the game a two-touchdown lead. It frustrated Joseph, since players are taught to grab every loose ball
"We preach that (getting loose balls) from day one in training camp, every loose ball, even balls that are incomplete in practice, we pick up," Joseph said. "That was a moment that escaped us, and in big games, you can't walk by those opportunities.
"That was a sack and that was a fumble. That would've been a big play in that game, and they scored on that drive. So, those are things we have to keep preaching."