It finally happened: J.J. Watt got his first sack with the Arizona Cardinals.
Cleveland Browns quarterback Baker Mayfield was running away from the defensive pressure midway through the third quarter when Watt caught up to him, stripped him of the ball and brought him down for his first sack in a Cardinals uniform.
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When Mayfield didn’t get up right away after the play, Watt kneeled down next to him, took off his helmet and waved to the sideline to alert the training staff to the injury. Mayfield left the game with a sore left arm/shoulder but returned for the Browns’ next possession.
Watt followed up a strong showing against the San Francisco 49ers with another big game against the Browns, making five tackles and knocking down a third-down pass as the Cardinals improved to 6-0 with a 37-14 victory over the Browns.
Playing without edge rusher Chandler Jones and two defensive linemen following a rash of positive tests for COVID-19, Arizona’s defense dominated another opponent on the road, pressuring Mayfield into three turnovers (two fumbles and an interception) and sacking him five times Sunday, October 17.
“It’s what we do. It’s all business,” Watt told NFL Network reporter Tom Pelissero after the game. “We know the task at hand, we know how to accomplish the task, and we go out there and do it. No excuses. No bulls***. We just find a way to win.”
Linebackers Jordan Hicks and Markus Golden each dropped Mayfield twice, with Golden joining Watt with a strip-sack. All three players also had two QB hits in the game.
The defense also came up big again on fourth down, stopping the Browns on three of their four attempts — including a first-quarter sack by Hicks. The Cardinals had four fourth-down stops a week earlier against the 49ers and now have an NFL-best 10 this season.
For Watt, it was his first sack of Mayfield, who became the 41st different QB the three-time NFL Defensive Player of the Year has sacked during his 11-year career. It was also Watt’s first sack since December 6, 2020, when he brought down now-retired Indianapolis Colts QB Phillip Rivers.
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Cardinals Overcome COVID, Hail Mary
Jones was the first of three defensive players to test positive for COVID-19 in the week leading up to the Browns game. Defensive linemen Zach Allen and Corey Peters later joined Jones on the Reserve/COVID-19 list and did not play against the Browns.
Coach Kliff Kingsbury, quarterbacks coach Cam Turner and general manager Steve Keim also tested positive for the virus and didn’t make the trip to Cleveland.
Jones tweeted congratulations to his teammates and championed defensive coordinator Vance Joseph after the game.
“It’s been a rough week losing our head coach, losing a couple guys to COVID,” said Joseph, who stepped in as acting head coach against the Browns. “Our team leaders were great all week. No one wavered; no one blinked.”
In addition to keeping the pressure on Mayfield, the Cardinals held the league’s top rushing team to a season-low 73 yards on 19 carries. The Browns (3-3) came into the game averaging 187.6 yards per game on the ground, but they played without leading rusher Nick Chubb.
Kareem Hunt gained 66 yards on 14 carries in Cubb’s absence before leaving the game in the fourth quarter with a calf injury.
Joseph said the emphasis in practice all week was on stopping the run, “and that happened.”
“We made Baker a passer, and that was the goal,” he said.
Things went about as well as they could defensively for the Cardinals — except for the Hail Mary touchdown right before the half.
With the Cardinals leading 23-7 in the closing seconds of the half, Mayfield escaped Arizona’s pass rushers, rolled to his right and heaved the ball to Donovan Peoples-Jones for a 57-yard touchdown.
“I have to coach that better,” Joseph said after the game. “I didn’t think (Mayfield) was going to reach the end zone from there, but he tried it. … Once he popped the pocket, I knew that was going to be a bad deal.”
“We were angry,” Watt told Pelissero when asked about the Hail Mary TD. “We shouldn’t have gave that up, and we knew it.”
Hicks said the Cardinals discussed the breakdowns on the play at halftime in the locker room and then left it there.
“As leaders, we addressed it,” he said. “And it’s one play; we move on. We were able to respond and not let that affect us going into the second half.”
Arizona responded with a second-half shutout and cruised to the 37-14 victory.
After the game, Watt tweeted his take on the Cardinals’ 6-0 record:
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