As the Arizona Cardinals await to confirm a possible season-ending biceps injury to outside linebacker Chandler Jones, hope came from one of his replacements.
Special teams captain Dennis Gardeck, a year after a switch from inside linebacker and two years removed from making the team as an undrafted free agent, made a sack on his first ever defensive series. He finished with one more Sunday in Arizona’s 30-10 win over the New York Jets.
“I was pretty nervous out there. I was letting (the Jets) know, ‘Hey, just a special-teamer. Take it easy,’” Gardeck said after being awarded the game ball.
“They obviously didn’t know who I was. So I just had to, ‘Yo, I’m a special teamer.’ Just let ’em know. That way when I did beat them, it’s like, ‘Dang, we just got beat by a special-teamer.’ Mental warfare.”
Gardeck gave a desperate Cardinals team the needed boost as it ended an ugly two-game losing streak.
With Arizona already down starting outside linebacker Devon Kennard to begin the day, it was on Gardeck, Haason Reddick and Kylie Fitts to produce. That they did against a winless team’s injury-stricken offensive line.
Gardeck had his sacks, Reddick finished with two quarterback hits and Fitts added three tackles as Arizona limited backup quarterback Joe Flacco to 195 yards and a touchdown on 18-for-33 passing.
“We always talk about the standard is the standard,” safety Budda Baker said. “It’s always, if you’re on the field, you’re a starter and you should be playing how a starter should play. Dennis came in there and he just played hard, played well, he got two sacks and now he’s going to be on the scouting report.
“With Chandler Jones, that’s a big loss. He’s a great player for our team, one of the best defensive pass-rushers in the league, if not the league.”
Gardeck’s big game mattered, too, because it came as the Cardinals addressed an energy crisis in their own locker room.
The team felt after their losses to Detroit and Carolina that it needed to put a concerted effort into creating energy.
“The team that has the best energy on their sideline has won the game in the games we played,” head coach Kliff Kingsbury said. “It’s real and we wanted to work at it. I thought our guys did a great job of creating their own energy today.”
It showed in the results. Arizona outgained New York 496-285. Quarterback Kyler Murray set a career high with 380 passing yards after the physical run game opened the door for the deep passes.
Murray mentioned that Arizona did something in the locker room pregame to get the energy up. He used that to segue into Gardeck’s two-sack performance.
“Can’t really tell you what went on in the locker room, but it was a lot more juice, a lot more energy and I think that translated to the field,” Murray said. “You got a guy like Gardeck who goes in, it’s his first couple plays, gets two sacks, get him the game ball and the whole team erupts.”
After the game, DeAndre Hopkins said he learned of Gardeck’s reputation because they shared an offseason training group. Kingsbury’s victory speech spoke of how much the linebacker is respected within Arizona’s walls.
“He is hell-on-wheels going on scout team against our offensive line. He just keeps going. The play’s never over for him. He’s the guy who gets there earlier than everybody, studies harder than any player I’ve ever seen,” Kingsbury said after the game.
The Cardinals could use a little of what Gardeck runs on if they move forward without Jones on the edge. If Jones is indeed done for the year, he will have the chance to add energy in a way Gardeck has well before he earned his first defensive snaps on Sunday.
“Even when he came back out, his smile, he still had a smile on his face. His energy never relaxed,” Cardinals receiver Christian Kirk said of Jones.
“It’s definitely a heartbreaking loss for us, but if there’s anybody that can handle something like that it’s Chandler. He’s going to be with us the whole entire way.”