Robert Alford had been working and waiting quite awhile for this opportunity, and he was determined to make the most of it.
Early in the second quarter in Cleveland, Browns quarterback Baker Mayfield sailed a pass over his intended receiver’s head and directly into Alford’s waiting hands, ending a nearly four-year interception drought for the Arizona Cardinals cornerback.
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“That felt good, man,” Alford told Arizona Sports’ “Wolf & Luke” on Monday, October 18. “Being out for two years, not having any picks and just sitting back and watching other guys get picks here and there. It felt real good just to get that one.”
Alford returned the interception 47 yards to the Browns’ 4-yard line before a review of the play concluded he stepped out at the 28-yard line, officially making it a 23-yard return. The play led to a 51-yard field goal from Matt Prater to give the Cardinals a 20-0 lead in the second quarter.
It was a long time coming for Alford, who has battled a series of injuries since signing a three-year deal with the Cardinals in February 2019.
Alford, 32, injured his leg in training camp in August 2019, ending his first season in Arizona before it got started. It was deja vu in August 2020, when a chest injury in training camp sidelined the 5-foot-10, 186-pound cornerback for the season.
This season, Alford made it through his first Cardinals training camp without getting injured, but he missed about a week during the preseason after testing positive for COVID-19.
“I’m blessed to be back,” he said. “I missed the past two seasons. I was looking forward to this season. I had a lot to prove, and I feel like I’m doing good so far.”
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Back-to-Back Big Games for Alford
Alford turned in his top performance of the season in the Cardinals’ 37-14 road win over the Browns on Sunday, October 17, according to PFF.
His 78 overall defensive grade was a season-high for the nine-year veteran and was the fifth-highest individual grade on the team against the Browns. Alford’s 78.8 score in coverage also was his top grade of the season.
In addition to his 11th career interception, Alford also had three pass breakups against the Browns, including a clutch play on fourth down in the fourth quarter when he knocked away a pass intended for Odell Beckham Jr. to give the ball back to Arizona.
“I was there simultaneously when the ball was coming in,” Alford said. “I just reached my hand in and knocked it away.”
It was one of three fourth-down stops in the game for the Cardinals (6-0), who have an NFL-leading 10 such stops this season. A week earlier against the San Francisco 49ers, Arizona had four fourth-down stops.
“When teams go for it on fourth down, that’s like a slap in the face of us on defense,” Alford said. “We know we have to win that down to come away with a takeaway or come away with a stop, which is just like a takeaway. At the end of the day, as long as we’re winning those downs, we’re feeling good.”
Alford also played a huge role for the Cardinals against the 49ers, with cornerbacks Byron Murphy and Marco Wilson both missing the game with injuries. Despite the injuries in the secondary, the 49ers had a season-low 186 passing yards, with Alford giving up only one catch on three targets in the game for just 6 yards, according to PFF.
Now that he has that first interception out of the way, Alford said he’s expecting to end up with the ball in his hands more often this season.
“Once you get that one, they all start rolling in,” he said. “I’m looking forward to the rest of them that God’s going to bless me with.”