Daryl Washington didn’t know what to do with himself.
While serving a four-game suspension for violating the league’s substance-abuse policy, the Arizona Cardinals inside linebacker worked out 2 1/2 hours a day before taking the weekends off.
Washington, accustomed to doing his best work on Sundays, couldn’t even bear to watch the Cardinals’ games live. He would DVR them to watch later.
“It was painful,” the former TCU star said in a phone interview. “When you know you can help your team, whether it’s covering a tight end or bringing pressure or just having your presence on the field, it always hurts to have to watch the game and not be on the field. Now that I’m back, I think I just have to continue to prove myself and make sure I’m putting myself and my teammates in the best position to win games.”
Washington, 27, didn’t need long to re-establish himself as one of the top players in the league at his position.
In his 2013 debut, Washington led the Cardinals to a 22-6 victory over the Carolina Panthers. He had a team-high nine tackles, with three tackles for loss, two sacks and an interception.
“I couldn’t wait to get back,” Washington said. “Obviously, I was anxious to play. It felt good coming back, knowing I was at home in my first game. Fortunately, I was able to have a successful game, and we were able to get the win.”
Washington earned his first Pro Bowl berth last season, the franchise’s first linebacker to earn that honor since Seth Joyner in 1994. He still believes, despite missing the first four games, that he can make it two all-star games in a row. Getting back to Hawaii is his only individual goal.
“Obviously, first and foremost, I want us to get to the playoffs,” Washington said. “We need to win as many games as we can and get to the playoffs. The last few years haven’t been so great as far our record and trying to get to that dance. But I do want to get back to the Pro Bowl. I think I’m definitely on track. There are a lot of good linebackers out there, so I have to keep playing these last six games at a high level. I think everything else will take care of itself.”
The Cardinals quietly are contending for a wild-card berth, with a 6-4 record heading into Sunday’s showdown against the Indianapolis Colts. Washington has been a big part of their success, with 36 tackles, two sacks, eight defensed passes and two interceptions.
“I’ve played pretty solid over the six games I’ve been back,” Washington said. “There are some things I could do better. Obviously, you grade yourself harder than anybody. I felt like I could have played better in some games, but overall I’ve played pretty solid.”
Even while he was in a slump, Garrett Hartley never lost confidence. Bigger still, Saints coach Sean Payton never lost confidence in Hartley.
The Saints worked out five kickers before their game against the San Francisco 49ers last week. But Hartley, a hero during the team’s 2009 postseason run to the Super Bowl XLIV title, kept his job.
“I understood,” Hartley said in a phone interview. “It’s part of the deal. I’m my worst and hardest critic, so getting everyone else’s input is what it is. Fans are going to be fans, and that’s OK. I just know that at the end of the day, this is my job, and I’m going to go out there and help my team win. Obviously, I don’t like missing. It is something you’ve just got to keep swinging, keep preparing like you do, stay on that routine and know when your team calls upon you, you’re going to be ready mentally and physically.”
The Southlake Carroll product was only 16 for 22 in the Saints’ first nine games. He had missed four of his previous six attempts before New Orleans really, really, REALLY needed him.
Hartley went 3 for 3 against the 49ers, all in the fourth quarter, with his 31-yard game-winner coming on the final play in a 23-20 victory.
“With the game and how it unfolded, knowing that as it came down the stretch, my team needed me, I just went out there and did my job,” Hartley said. “Being my sixth year, I’ve just become thick-skinned to when adversity is upon on me.
“I’m going to step up to the occasion and just go out there and do the same thing I’ve been doing every week as far as my preparation throughout the course, and we were just able to go out there and execute and come out with the W.”
Hartley continued his roll Thursday night with a 41-yarder in the third quarter in a 17-13 victory over the Falcons.