Wednesday marked the first episode of HBO’s Hard Knocks In Season: The Arizona Cardinals, but the tension in Glendale has been growing for weeks.
Nowhere was it more clear in the season premiere than during safety Budda Baker’s impassioned locker room speech following a 20-17 defeat to the Philadelphia Eagles in Week 5, a loss that would begin a stretch of four defeats in five games and drop Arizona to its current record of 3-6.
“We need to step the (expletive) up,” Baker told his teammates, who were huddled on a knee around him. “All of us. All of us! Step the (expletive) up! Work harder! (Expletive) recover. Watch more film. I’m tired of losing! It (expletive) hurts my heart. I’m tired of losing at home! We need to get this together. Come on! Let’s go, man! I love ya’ll boys, man, let’s go, man. Come on, I’m tired of it. I’m tired of it! I’m (expletive) tired. Let’s go.”
Baker then kneeled with the rest of the team and led a group prayer.
The quote in written form does not do the two-time All-Pro’s message justice. The locker room was dead silent, locked in on the defensive leader as raw emotion spilled over in his voice.
The subsequent results did not go in Arizona’s favor, however, and the team now desperately needs that type of fire if it hopes to flip its season around and return to the playoffs. It will unfortunately be up to the rest of the 53 to put Baker’s words into action for him in the coming games.
The fifth-year pro was shown to be everywhere on the field in Hard Knocks‘ featured Week 9 game against the Seahawks and made a team-high 11 tackles, but he suffered a high ankle sprain at the tail end of the fourth quarter that is expected to keep him out multiple weeks.
The injury diagnosis during a crucial stretch of the season adds another layer to the energy radiating from Baker’s postgame speech weeks earlier. Baker currently leads the team in tackles with 71, and he’s missed just a single snap since Week 2. Arizona is about to be without its heart and soul.
It also raises the stakes as the Cardinals desperately search for an answer to their head-scratching woes at home, where they’ve gone 4-9 since the beginning of 2021.
Having already dropped three games to NFC West foes, the Cardinals’ next two opponents come within the division. They face the Rams in L.A. in Week 10 and meet the 49ers in Mexico City the following week for Monday Night Football.
During a film session shown before the loss to Seattle, linebackers coach Bill Davis heaped praise on Baker, urging his other players to match the safety’s drive.
“I want to challenge you guys,” Davis said. “Somebody play harder than Budda in a game. … Try to play harder than him. What kind of defense would we have?”
The Cardinals are about to find out what kind of unit they’ll have without Baker. If they want to save their season, they’ll need every healthy defender to take their coach’s challenge to heart.
Hard Knocks In Season: The Arizona Cardinals airs Wednesdays at 10 p.m. ET on HBO and HBO Max and will run until the end of the Cardinals’ season.
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