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Tyrann Mathieu Becomes Badger In Loss To Bears
August 20, 2017 06:43 AM | Kyle Odegard
Cardinals safety Tyrann Mathieu celebrates after his interception in the second quarter against the Bears.

The NFL is encouraging players to be themselves this season, which is why Tyrann Mathieu wore red personalized cleats in warmups on Saturday.

The Cardinals' safety promptly forgot about that during the game, because he turned into the Honey Badger.

Mathieu has been arguably the best player on the field throughout training camp, a welcome departure from the guy who was dogged by his second torn ACL throughout 2016. Coach Bruce Arians wanted to see Mathieu start making plays under the lights, and he obliged in the Cardinals' 24-23 loss to the Bears in the team's third preseason game.

Mathieu was active early, registering two tackles, including one for loss on a screen pass, and then saved a sluggish performance by the defense when he picked off Chicago quarterback Mike Glennon in the red zone and returned the ball 52 yards early in the second quarter. The Cardinals would score on their ensuing possession for a 7-3 lead.

"That's why I think it's so important for me to be healthy and stay healthy, because that's the kind of play I can make for my team," Mathieu said.

The Cardinals needed the big play because they had trouble slowing down Chicago. While Glennon didn't do much, reserve running back Tarik Cohen regularly gashed the starting defense and finished with 77 yards on 11 carries. Chicago had 75 rushing yards in the first quarter alone.

"I wasn't fired up that they drove the ball all the way down there, but glad (Mathieu) put the fire out," Arians said.

The Bears controlled much of the game and led 24-14 with 1:55 remaining, but third-string quarterback Blaine Gabbert helped engineer a comeback. Phil Dawson hit a 52-yard field goal with 1:20 remaining, and wide receiver Krishawn Hogan recovered an onside kick to keep the Cardinals' hopes alive.

Gabbert found Jeremy Ross for a 3-yard touchdown with nine seconds left, but a two-point conversion attempt for Ross was thrown short, and the Bears held on.

"Just missed him," Arians said. "He was wide open."

The Cardinals' first-team offense wasn't great but did have one scoring drive. It took advantage of the Mathieu intercepton and drove 43 yards in 11 plays to take a 7-3 lead on a 1-yard touchdown pass from Palmer to Jermaine Gresham in the second quarter.

The drive wasn't without its drama. J.J. Nelson lost control of a ball that was returned 77 yards by Bears defensive back Cre'Von LeBlanc for a touchdown, but it was reversed when Nelson was ruled down on a replay review.

The Cardinals had second-and-goal from the 1, but Chris Johnson was stuffed twice for no gain, forcing a decision on fourth-and-goal. Gresham found an opening in the defense in the back of the end zone for the score.

"He's had a great camp, a really good offseason," Palmer said. "It's his third year now, I think, in this system. He's a different player. He looks much more confident and much more comfortable. This offense isn't just something you pick up in one year."

Palmer finished the game 9-of-14 passing for 67 yards and a touchdown. He was knocked down regularly, as the offensive line had its issues, especially tackles Jared Veldheer and D.J. Humphries, although Arians thought Palmer held the ball too long. Drew Stanton didn't have much success in his short stint, finishing 2-of-6 for 17 yards.

Gabbert was 14-of-25 for 174 yards with the passing touchdown and a four-yard rushing score in the second half. Arians said he's learned "a hell of a lot" about Gabbert this preseason.

"He's a pretty good player," Arians said.

The special teams unit had some issues. Bears running back Benny Cunningham nearly returned the opening kickoff for a touchdown, stopped by safety Harlan Miller, who was the last line of defense. The unit wasn't as lucky on the final play of the first half, when Phil Dawson missed a 63-yard field goal and Bears wideout Deonte Thompson returned it 109 yards for a score and a 17-7 halftime lead.

Dawson told Arians before the game that his limit was 55 yards, but Arians pressed the issue.

"We were going to try it anyway just to see what the hell," Arians said. "Still, somebody needs to make a tackle, but that's on me."



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