Steve Breaston has evolved into an important part of the Cards' offense.
The moment isn't easy for Steve Breaston to pin down, in part because he's never really analyzed his NFL career arc.
Eventually, when the one-time fifth-round draft choice focuses on the moment he first understood he had gone from being just a small piece to an important cog of the Cardinals, it's interesting he chooses a game in which he didn't have a catch.
Breaston had only two balls thrown at him that day in Washington last season, a 24-17 loss. One was incomplete when Breaston turned the wrong way on a route that should have gone for big yards. The other was a deep ball that Breaston couldn't haul it in coverage, eventually watching the tipped pass be intercepted for a game-changing play.
Not only did Breaston have a catch in every game since then, but he rattled off four of his best games as a pro in the four games right after Washington, understanding that the Cards couldn't afford for him to let them down – no matter how many times he might be thrown the ball.
"Whatever the coaches and teammates ask me to do, I do it to the best of my abilities," Breaston said. "I don't sit back and think, 'Oh, this is important.' I just do my job. Certain times, I'm not going to get the ball as much as anyone else. The run game may be clicking, I've got Larry and Anquan out there. My role may just be one or two catches a game, but they could be big catches. You understand that.
"The Redskins game, I had two passes thrown my way, but they were big plays. Whatever opportunities you get, if you make the play when it counts, that's as important as anything."
Such as his touchdown Sunday in Seattle, when Breaston went high in the air to haul in his first TD of the season, one of his seven catches. Or his 36-yard punt return that set up a score.
"I probably talked to three or four different people with regards to Sunday and one of the first things they said was, 'I love Steve Breaston,' " quarterback Kurt Warner said. "That's all you can say. You love having that guy around, you love having him on your team."
Maybe Breaston understood long ago what he meant to the team, but it may have been this preseason when outsiders really had Breaston's import hammered home.
Breaston was a 1,000-yard receiver in 2008, but some still struggled with the idea he wasn't simply a product of the system. Then Breaston hurt his knee in the Cards' preseason opener and then couldn't play in the regular-season opener – a game in which fellow receiver Anquan Boldin was severely limited with a hamstring injury.
The Cards' offense sputtered and Arizona eventually lost.
That puts Breaston light-years from that rookie season in 2007, when then-offensive coordinator Todd Haley didn't think Breaston would ever be more than a return man and many others saw it the same.
Even Wednesday, when Larry Fitzgerald was praising Breaston's hands and talent and someone asked if Fitzgerald saw that potential back in Breaston's rookie season, Fitzgerald just laughed and said "I ain't going to comment on that one."
"Obviously I have confidence in myself even when not too many other people did," Breaston said. "People had me pegged in certain roles, but the more opportunities I get, the better I play."
Perhaps just as crucial is Breaston's personality, which not only lends itself to improving as a player but also seems to fit the Cards' roster. If the Cards need him to step in and catch eight passes, he can. But he has no issues deferring to Fitzgerald and Boldin, knowing his place – for now – as the team's No. 3 receiver.
"He does a great job of learning and listening, taking things from Q and Larry and (receivers coach) John McNulty and myself, and incorporating that all in his game," passing game coordinator Mike Miller said. "Does it take a special person to play behind Fitzgerald and Boldin? Maybe. But Steve seems to be the right person in this case."
With 23 catches for 320 yards this season, Breaston is on pace to hit similar numbers as last season, including surpassing 1,000 yards. He'll likely have to do with dealing with his sore knee, which he said he has accepted will likely never be back to 100 percent until the season is over.
But he knows the Cardinals need him on the field, so that's where he will be.
"I've gotten more roles and as that's happened, I've become more important to this team," Breaston said. "I accept my role on this team and I embrace it."