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The Tao of Budda (Baker), And Friday Before The Eagles

So Budda Baker had been praised for his uplifting words last week, going into the game against the Giants. But the Pro Bowl safety and captain didn't want to get into detail.

"For me, I kind of like to keep that in-house," Baker said with a grin. "I don't really like to talk about what I said or what my thoughts were. It was more about, we lost that game (against the Rams) and for me, it was, 'I don't want to go home when the season is over, I want to go to the playoffs like we all do.' "

Baker always felt like he was a leader, albeit more by example. This year, yes, he has tried to be more vocal, especially with key injuries on defense and his own maturity (leading to him earning the captain's "C".) But that has been something that has come up – the leadership in the locker room, especially when the team went through its slide.

That's a subject that's always been hard for me. Yes, leadership matters. But to what extent? I don't think leadership is why the defense couldn't hold off the Dolphins, or why the offense struggled so mightily in New England, or why the Rams again seemed to have the Cardinals' number.

Then again, there are times when a leader can set a tone for the week, like Baker helped create.

"There are a bunch of great leaders on the team," Baker said. "I'm not going to take credit for all that because multiple people talked. For us, it's a week-by-week mentality."

-- Kenyan Drake has been a part of two of the most amazing finishes in the NFL over the last few years. He was around for the Hail Murray, of course, and he also scored the game-winning touchdown in the Miami Miracle against the Patriots in 2018. One of his biggest takeaways? The wins were important, but in the aftermath, each seemed to hurt more than help. The Cardinals, of course, lost three straight after the Hail Murray. So did the Dolphins, who were 7-6 and fighting for the playoffs after that big win only to finish 7-9.

"Being a part of the two last-minute, game-winning touchdowns that I've been a part of, from the Miami Miracle to the Hail Murray, the thing I got from those experiences was that the next few games, we didn't come out and play our best football," Drake said.

"In my honest opinion, (the Miami Miracle) was all for nothing. It was a great moment, but the ultimate goal is to get to the playoffs and play meaningful football at the end of the year. With us losing three games after (the Hail Murray), it was more of a wake-up call again to sit back and think about the bigger picture. When you have such a big moment, you can't let that big moment overshadow moving forward."

-- How much Chase Edmonds is able to do Sunday will impact this offense. Edmonds, who has been limited with an ankle injury, is a crucial part of the offense. I'm guessing he will play, but how much might be in question. Drake has been solid – does he get more receptions if Edmonds is limited?

-- Haason Reddick isn't going to get five sacks again (at least, I'm pretty sure), but he's going up another team he grew up watching so close to his New Jersey home. As a Temple product, there are plenty of people in Philly who still root for Reddick. He's not that far off the NFL lead in sacks if he can make a late push.

-- Gotta make Jalen Hurts hurt. One of these times, the Cardinals have to make the rookie/inexperienced QB pay for being a rookie/inexperienced.  

-- Larry Fitzgerald isn't going to put up the numbers he probably thought he would this season (or the numbers I thought he'd put up), but he still has the second-most receptions among wide receivers on the team and is neck-and-neck with Edmonds for second on the team. He's five receptions away from reaching 50 this season, and that would make him 17-for-17 for 50-catch seasons in his career. It would also give Fitzgerald the NFL record outright for most consecutive 50-reception seasons, breaking a tie with Tony Gonzalez.

-- It won't impact the game, but so many continue to ask – albeit less and less lately – about local favorites Eno Benjamin and Prince Amukamara. When it seemed more iffy if Edmonds would play this week, it automatically raised the idea of Benjamin playing, and Kingsbury when asked about it seemed less than enthusiastic about the possibility, although he never ruled it out. It's clear that this has basically been a redshirt year for Benjamin, a player who might've ended up on the practice squad otherwise but then open to be poached by another team.

As for Amukamara, defensive coordinator Vance Joseph was blunt – "he's a practice squad player" – and that's been evident with the way it's played out. The Cards are relatively healthy at cornerback, so they don't need Amukamara. If injuries or COVID swept through the position, things would change.

-- It's really no surprise, but with Santa Clara County extending their ban on contact sports through Jan. 8, the 49ers will now officially play a third home game – Jan. 3 against the Seahawks – at State Farm Stadium to close the regular season. The Cards finish the year at the L.A. Rams that day.

-- Christian Kirk had by far his best day returning punts last week and that would be a big bonus if he could continue that against the Eagles. Kirk had returns of 17, 18 and 24 yards among his six returns. Now, the Cards also need to get Kirk going offensively. He has seven catches for only 35 yards over the last three games.

-- A win over the Eagles would complete the NFC East sweep this season. The Cardinals have dominated their former division, going 3-0 thus far and outscoring the Football Team, Cowboys and Giants by a combined 94-32.

See you Sunday.

S Budda Baker (32) smiles and congraulates S Charles Washington after a play in New York against the Giants in 2020

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