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John Abraham coming on strong for Arizona Cardinals

TEMPE, Ariz. — Daryl Washington wanted to get one last question in.

“You’ve been playing so well, so are you coming back next year,” he asked teammate John Abraham.

Abraham is in the first year of a two-year contract he signed with the Cardinals in July, and with the way he’s been playing, a return for the second season would certainly be welcome.

Following a three-sack performance Sunday against the Houston Texans, the 35-year-old now has six sacks on the season — all of which have come in the last three games. It is a franchise record for sacks in three consecutive contests, and with 128 in his career, Abraham is steadily climbing up the NFL’s all-time list.

“He’s hitting on all cylinders right now, and that’s where we needed him to be at the right time,” linebacker Karlos Dansby said. “He’s peaking at the right time right now, and it’s good. It’s a real good thing for our team.”

Four games ago, this did not seem very likely.

Sure, Abraham had gotten some pressure a couple of times, but for six games he had been unable to actually get to the quarterback. And even though he had tallied 10 sacks last season and 9.5 the year before, his age led some to wonder if the former Falcon and Jet would ever find what made him one of the most feared pass rushers in the league.

Abraham understood the concern but disagreed with the idea.

“Being 35 you know you’ve got to deal with that kind of pressure, some people saying you can’t do this,” he said. “I had no doubt that I still could play at a high level, I just had to get everything situated in my head and everything situated on the team and get the confidence of the coaches and everybody around me.”

Abraham added that when he first got to Arizona he was playing in a backup role, which is true. He signed in Arizona knowing that he may become a situational pass rusher, and that may very well have been the coaching staff’s goal. However, season-ending injuries to linebackers Sam Acho and Alex Okafor forced him into the starting lineup, and while no one wants to see anyone injured, the silver lining has been more reps for Abraham. And given that, Cardinals coach Bruce Arians said it was only a matter of time before he got going.

“He was getting so close,” the coach said.

Abraham attributed the increased production to playing time as well as better health, and given the results, it’s tough to argue that point. Arians also pointed to the disruption coming from the middle of the defensive line, and there’s little doubt that has also helped.

But whatever the reasons, Abraham is giving the Cardinals something they have not had in nearly a decade. Through nine games he is on pace to finish the season with 10.6 sacks, which would be the highest individual total for a Cardinal since Bertrand Berry tallied 14.5 in 2004. Then again, Abraham’s last three games have been nothing like the previous six, so if you look at the roll he’s currently on, that final number could be much, much higher.

“He’s one of those guys that you need on the outside that can put pressure on the quarterback, take a little pressure off the guys in the middle, like myself, and ‘Los,” Washington said of Abraham. “Once he’s able to put pressure like that then we’re able to be a better defense as far as pass rushing, so all we’ve got to do right now is continue to keep getting better and making our plays.”

As a team, the Cardinals’ 26 sacks are tied for 14th in the NFL, though the 216 yards lost to their sacks ranks fourth. Eleven players other than Abraham have recorded a sack, with four of them — Dansby, Washington, Calais Campbell and Darnell Dockett — tallying multiple sacks. Though Abraham has forced three fumbles himself, the Cardinals have just eight, which places them in a tie for 19th.

In short, the defense has been good, and probably even very good. Add in an elite pass rusher whom offenses have to account for? Watch the group go to a whole new level.

“Everybody’s got sacks, pretty much,” Abraham said, crediting defensive coordinator Todd Bowles for what the defense is doing. “You’ve got DBs getting sacks on our team, you’ve got ‘Los getting sacks.

“You know, I was jealous of them at the beginning of the year because they were getting all the sacks, so you know I had to come back with a vengeance.”

Indeed he has.

But as to Washington’s question, which was about whether or not he’ll be back next season, Abraham had a very simple response.

“Man, we ain’t going to talk about that,” he said.

For now, he’ll just let his play on the field do the talking for him.