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Arizona Cardinals’ Tyrann Mathieu stops thinking, plays better

TEMPE, Ariz. — There’s a photo making the rounds, one of a leaping Tyrann Mathieu skying just high enough to knock away what could have been a game-winning touchdown pass to Jordan Matthews in the waning seconds of Sunday’s 24-20 win over the Philadelphia Eagles.

The timing, the quickness, the athleticism: it was vintage Honey Badger.

“I think I’m finally starting to get comfortable with the brace, just moving around with it,” Mathieu said, acknowledging he’s seen the picture. “I think Sunday I wasn’t really thinking about my knee; I think it was just more about going out there and trying to make plays, so I really wasn’t thinking about it at all.”

Mathieu said it’s the first time he’s gone into a game this season not thinking about his knee, and according to his coach, there was a noticeable difference in his play.

“He’s gotten better and better and more confidence,” Cardinals coach Bruce Arians said of the second-year defensive back. “I think the day that brace comes off he’ll be back to full speed, in his mind. He’s already back to full speed, but in his mind he’ll be back there and more comfortable.”

Mathieu played a season-high 76 defensive snaps Sunday, finishing the game with four tackles. In six games this season, he has tallied 15 tackles, two passes defensed and one fumble recovery.

But Sunday was the first time he really felt like himself out on the football field.

“Yeah I did, I did,” he said. “Throughout the game, obviously there were ups and downs, I could have done things better here and there, but I think for the most part I moved around pretty good and I made a few plays. So that was definitely encouraging.”

And no doubt, it was exciting to make that the photo comes from, one that may very well have saved the team from its second loss of the season. That moment, Mathieu said, is what he works for during the week.

“I was just fortunate enough to have the opportunity to make that third-down play and bat the ball out bounds in our end zone,” he said. “It all worked out for me.”