Safety Kerry Rhodes (left) stands over Philadelphia tight end Brent Celek after a big hit Rhodes delivered during the Cardinals' win over the Eagles last weekend.
The first hit was hard.
Philadelphia Eagles tight end Brent Celek missed a low pass from Michael Vick in the left flat during the second quarter Sunday against the Cardinals. Before he could look up, safety Kerry Rhodes unloaded a shoulder into Celek, knocking him back three yards. Seemingly unfazed, Celek didn't let the hit stop him from a little verbal jousting with Rhodes.
The second was harder.
On the next play Vick went right back to Celek, who came across the middle, running right to left. Vick's pass bounced off his hands and before Celek could turn his head, Rhodes buried his right shoulder into Celek's chest. All 6-foot-4, 255 pounds of Celek laid out under Rhodes, who stood over Celek while ripping his chinstraps off and unleashing a violent scream.
Yeah, Rhodes is back.
After missing eight games last season with a broken foot and another with an injured ankle, it took Rhodes three games this season to feel perfect. His foot is healed and he's healthy but Rhodes has felt good – not great. Something was just a little bit off until Sunday.
"I really felt 100 percent going into the game for the first time in a while," Rhodes said. "I was really confident in running on it, cutting on it. I came back and played at the end of last year and it was still a little iffy coming into the season. And to go out and have a performance like that was great for me. It was great for the team as well, because when I'm at my best and making plays it just takes our defense to another level."
Rhodes wasn't done after blowing up Celek twice. Right before halftime, Rhodes came around the right edge on a blitz, delivering another brutal hit, this one to Vick's blind side, to force a fumble. James Sanders returned it 93 yards for a touchdown to give the Cardinals a 24-0 lead at the break.
Even his teammates noticed something different about Rhodes on Sunday.
"You can definitely tell he's got his swag back and a lot of confidence in his play," fellow safety Rashad Johnson said. "I think (Sunday) was a big statement game for him just to let people know, 'I'm back as a player.'
"After the game I had to go and congratulate him and let me know that's the Kerry that I remember."
As much of a personal statement as his hits were – his performance landed Rhodes on ESPN's NFL32 on Monday – Rhodes said it was a testament to the Cardinals' defense, which is ranked in the Top 10 in 11 of 18 categories ranked by the NFL.
Against New England, Rhodes gave a preview of how far he's come since the injuries. He knocked down the Patriots' two-point conversion attempt with 2:49 left, which, had it been completed, would've tied the game at 20.
Then came his vicious hits against the Eagles.
"My confidence level stays high," Rhodes said. "I know I'm one of the better players in this league. I know that. A lot of people do. Just when you see success and you get to feel it and just get used to making those plays again, it just helps you out and it just ramps you up to another level."
Just ask Brent Celek.