Chandler Jones played his first game for the Cardinals in 2016 against the New England Patriots – the team that had just traded him to Arizona.
“I’ll tell you this – I circled that game on the calendar,” Jones recalled Thursday, with his pass-rushing cohort, Terrell Suggs, prepping to play his second game with the Cardinals against his former team, the Baltimore Ravens.
“I’m not saying I’m Terrell, or he’s me,” Jones added. “But it meant something to me.”
Suggs’ homecoming in March, when he signed with the Cardinals as a free agent, was about getting a chance to play in his hometown. Two weeks into the regular season, though, Suggs makes another homecoming in returning to the city in which he played his first 16 NFL seasons and became a star.
“When the schedule came out, I was like, ‘Yeah, I’m going to downplay it as just another game.’ But we all know that’d be (expletive),” Suggs said. “It’s kind of a unique situation, isn’t it? It’s kind of weird. Everybody is just kind of anxious to see what it’s going to be like.”
Suggs’ return is the dominant storyline, topping even the anticipated Kyler Murray-Lamar Jackson matchup. Sunday’s home opener for the Ravens is the first time that a game will be played for the franchise in Baltimore that did not include either Ray Lewis or Suggs.
The Ravens had wanted to bring Suggs back. But he wanted to come to Arizona before his career ended, and “it was time,” he said.
“We say that when you do some of the things that we were able to do together as a group, you walk together forever,” Ravens coach John Harbaugh said. “That definitely holds true, except for probably three hours on Sunday. We have to look at him as an opponent.
“We have to deal with him because he’s a game-wrecker of a player.”
Suggs turns 37 next month and the Cardinals want to make sure the long season doesn’t wear him down prematurely. But he was wrecking things in the opener, registering two sacks against the Lions and nearly recovering a fumble he forced.
“He was the best player on the field on defense,” Cardinals defensive coordinator Vance Joseph said.
His impact on the locker room has been apparent from the start. Coach Kliff Kingsbury noted Suggs “brings juice” every day, and his teammates smile when asking about Suggs’ trash-talking, something for which Suggs was legendary with in Baltimore.
“The whole day he’s non-stop,” tackle D.J. Humphries said. “The day he comes out and he’s not talking, I know something is up. I know I’m about to get some game reps and it’s about to get real. ‘He’s getting his game face right now, let me buckle my damn chin strap.’ ”
Suggs’ Arizona roots have been crucial in his transition, wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald said. Given that Fitzgerald spent part of training camp giving Suggs grief he didn’t identify as a Minnesota native (Suggs, like Fitzgerald, was born there), there was some irony in Fitzgerald noting how “comfortable” Suggs has been coming home to Arizona.
That he has fit well in the locker room – quickly finding chemistry with Jones, a humor partner in Humphries and a fellow long-time veteran in Fitzgerald helping the process – also made the transition easy.
“Some locker rooms are more unique than others, but yes, I still get to be myself,” Suggs said. “I still get to be ‘Sizzle,’ and that was key. That was huge. I love just still being able to be one of the guys.”
Suggs is on a one-year contract, although he said “I shy away when people start talking about retirement.” At the same time, he’s been careful not to make any predictions about his performance this season, beginning from the time he signed his deal through training camp until now.
Eventually, he will likely end up back in Baltimore to officially wrap up his career with a special ceremony. It won’t be this trip. Regardless, this is a game that will produce memories, no matter how Suggs plays.
“He’ll be geeked up,” Fitzgerald said. “We’ll probably have to be calming him down.”
Images of past matchups against this week's opponent, the Baltimore Ravens