GLENDALE, Ariz. — If at first you don’t succeed, the adage goes, try, try again.
Dwight Freeney apparently subscribes to the concept, and it’s a good thing, too. Had he not turned to his spin move to get past left tackle Matt Kalil, he may not have been able to sack Minnesota Vikings quarterback Teddy Bridgewater at the Arizona 38, forcing a fumble that was recovered by Calais Campbell in the final seconds to preserve Arizona’s 23-20 win.
“It was funny because I spun three times in that series,” Freeney said. “The first one, he blocked me, so I said, ‘nah, he’ll never expect another one,’ second one I spun I got killed, so then I came with the third. I’m like, ‘he’ll never expect a third one,’ and I actually got in there. I made a good move and we had good coverage in the back end.”
It was the fourth sack of the season for Freeney, who was signed in mid-October, and it brings his career total to 115.5. The takedown was valuable financially, as the 35-year-old earned a $200,000 bonus for reaching four sacks and stands to make another $100,000 per sack the rest of the way, up to a maximum of 12.
The team leader in that category, it was easily his biggest sack of the season. After all, it might very well have saved the game.
“Oh, they were in field goal range for sure,” Cardinals coach Bruce Arians said of the Vikings. “You know, it was a great play by him and that’s why he’s going to the Hall of Fame.
“We brought him here to get pressure on the plays he plays, and he did a great job.”
Freeney said he was a little surprised the Vikings dropped back to pass given that they were already in field goal range, but he figured they must have been thinking about a touchdown and the win. Minnesota head coach Mike Zimmer said the plan was to get the ball a little further down the field but near the sideline, making it an easier field goal attempt while stopping the clock.
“We told them, ‘Can’t complete the ball inbounds,’ because at 12 to 13 seconds is right at the time that you can spike the ball and get the clock stopped. Can’t complete the ball inbounds and you can’t take a sack.”
Dwight Freeney : Game-ending sack/forced fumble with 6 seconds left pic.twitter.com/eQ0AGkmef1
— Lee Harvey (@MusikFan4Life) December 11, 2015
Freeney, who said he has a lot of different spin moves in his arsenal, admitted he was exhausted at that point in the game but was glad he was able to find enough left in the tank. It was fun, he said, and the very reason he decided to continue his career this season.
The Cardinals are glad he did.
“Dwight’s been huge,” defensive lineman Calais Campbell said. “He studies the game — he loves the game. He’s always looking at film and coming to me and other guys, and telling us how we can make plays and win games.
“That last play of the game, he called a play, a stunt for us to do because he knew it was going to work, and he made a huge play. Any time you can assess the situation and call a good play, a good stunt, and then hit home, that’s huge. That’s a big-time play. That’s a playoff play. That’s a championship play. It was huge.”
Added safety Tyrann Mathieu: “He was running up the sideline all game saying, ‘Let me get the quarterback,’ and that was the perfect time for him to step up and make a play.”
Freeney brings Super Bowl experience, having been to the game twice and winning once with the Indianapolis Colts . That’s why while he’s understandably pleased with what transpired Thursday, he said it’s all about making sure the team gets its next win. The big play at the end may have sealed it, but every play that preceded it was also important.
While that is true, it’s the last one that got him paid a little more, and it’s the last one that ensured the Cardinals would win their 11th game of the season.
A walk-off sack? Might as well have been.
“I have had one of those,” Freeney said of a sack that sealed a win. “Those are the greatest feelings for a defensive lineman honestly. It is no different than two seconds on the clock and you’re a basketball player and you shoot a three to end the game, or ninth inning, two outs and you hit a home run.
“It’s one of those types of feelings that you can’t duplicate.”