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Hail Defense: Mayfield Bomb Lone Hiccup In Dominant Cardinals Performance

Unit totals five sacks, three turnovers and second-half shutout to beat Browns

Cornerback Robert Alford makes an interception during Sunday's win over the Browns.
Cornerback Robert Alford makes an interception during Sunday's win over the Browns.

The play could've turned the game. Instead, the Cardinals' defense turned it into a meaningless highlight.

Browns quarterback Baker Mayfield escaped pressure and launched a 57-yard Hail Mary touchdown Sunday to Donovan Peoples-Jones on the final play of the first half, shaving a 16-point deficit to nine with the kind of play that can break the other team.

But the Cardinals, playing the game without the services of Chandler Jones, Zach Allen, Corey Peters due to positive Covid tests, instead didn't surrender a point in the second half on the way to a 37-14 win over the Browns.

"We came into the locker room and addressed it," linebacker Jordan Hicks said. "We were able to respond and not let that one play impact us."

Defensive coordinator Vance Joseph, who shared head coaching duties with Jeff Rodgers, had a unit that acted as if it had every player available. The Cardinals held Mayfield to a lowly 34.8 quarterback rating and limited a vaunted offense to just 14 points. Cornerback Robert Alford notched his first interception since 2017, after missing the past two years with injuries, while the pass rush had five sacks and six quarterback hits on Mayfield. Browns running back Kareem Hunt was limited to 66 yards on 14 carries.

The Cardinals also recovered two Browns fumbles and stopped Cleveland three times on fourth down.

The unit's only misstep was the Hail Mary.

Marco Wilson and Budda Baker were the only ones in the end zone, and Baker fell just as the ball was coming down. Joseph was also disappointed the four-man pass rush allowed Mayfield to get outside and get momentum on his heave to the end zone. Markus Golden just missed a sack on the play.

"I have to coach that better," Joseph said. "I didn't think he [Mayfield] was going to reach the end zone from there, and once he popped the pocket, I knew that was going to be a bad deal – because now it's 6'2 guys for the corners. Once it became a Hail Mary, my guys at the midpoint should turn and run with those guys, and they didn't."

"At the end of the play, there were three Browns players and only two corners. That's on me, and I didn't coach that well enough. But outside of that Hail Mary, they played well."

J.J. Watt, who played excellent football once again, led the charge with defensive stops during pivotal moments in the game. The first occurred midway in the third quarter when Watt sacked Mayfield and caused a forced fumble. The second happened on a third-and-4 in the red zone, when Watt tipped Mayfield's pass at the line of scrimmage. On the next play, Alford drilled wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. to force Beckham to drop the ball and turn the ball over.

The Cardinals then went on a game-sealing 93-yard touchdown drive.

Golden, who produced a season-high two sacks on Sunday, said the team wanted to play for their absent teammates and coaches.

"I wouldn't say I had to do this because Chandler [Jones] is out," Golden said. "I bring my all no matter if it's a price or game, and that's what I did today. But of course, our goal was to play for Chandler and the rest of the guys because they would have played their hearts out. So, that was my thing, play for them and coach Kliff (Kingsbury) too."

Hicks, who also had a career-high two sacks Sunday, said their performance shows their ability to handle adversity.

"It is just the resiliency of this team," Hicks said. "We don't worry about what's going on around us. "We focus on ourselves by executing the game plan and putting ourselves in positions to execute the details of the game plan our coaches give us. We don't waver, and I think that's the mark that's been imprinted at this point."