The Arizona Cardinals won their first game of the year, defeating the Tampa Bay Buccaneers 40-7 on Sunday. The defense forced five turnovers on Jameis Winston, including an interception returned for a touchdown by cornerback Marcus Cooper. The newly-acquired cornerback made the catch and run, but his job was made easier because the ball was tipped at the line.
“You don’t find balls like that in this league,” Cooper said.
The golden opportunity was presented to Cooper by defensive lineman Josh Mauro, who got his hand on the pass.
“It was a reaction, just a bang-bang play. I was rushing up-field, and I saw the tackle try to leave and escape, so I knew something was up,” Mauro said. “I saw (Jameis Winston), and he threw the ball and I was able to get a hand in there and number-41 (Marcus Cooper) had a hell of a game today, and he really stepped up for us opposite (Patrick Peterson)."
Mauro’s instincts on the field is something Stanford fans are familiar with. While on-campus from 2009-2013, the 6-foot-6 lineman found himself in the backfield often, notching 17.5 tackles for loss and 10 sacks in his final two years with the Cardinal.
Mauro signed with the Pittsburgh Steelers in May 2014 as an undrafted free agent and was cut in August. He found a home in Arizona.
From there, he has helped this stout Cardinal defense make plays, and says the Stanford program helped him prepare for the pro game.
“We ran a pro-style defense there with different defensive coordinators who have now been in the league or been in and out of the league. It’s the whole program up there. They really run things like a professional team.”
The responsibility and discipline instilled in Mauro helped him etch out space in a crowded Arizona Cardinal defensive line, which occupies nine of the 53 spots on the current roster.
“(Stanford coaches) aren’t going to babysit you. Just like here, they aren’t going to babysit you," Mauro said. "I think Coach Harbaugh and Coach Shaw did a great job preparing not only me but a lot of the Stanford players coming into the NFL.”
Fast forward back to Sunday.fter the lineman connected with the pass, and Cooper was en route to the end zone, Mauro started swinging his arms in celebration, a la Drew Stanton.
After the lineman connected with the pass, and Cooper was en route to the end zone, Mauro started swinging his arms in celebration, a la Drew Stanton. It was a moment of pure joy for the former (and current, in a way) Cardinal.
“The football field is where I can be myself, so I don’t hold anything back in between the whistles, I’m celebrating with my teammates,” Mauro said. “I want to make it about us. It’s always about our team. I love playing with these guys. It’s fun and when we play the way we should, you saw the results today.”
Those results don’t lie when it comes to Mauro. Stanford went 54-13 in his five years at Stanford, and the Cardinals have posted a 26-11 record and an appearance in the 2016 NFC championship game while Mauro has been with the Bird Gang.
That winning pedigree and competitive nature have helped the defensive line become an elite group and propelled the Cardinals into Super Bowl contenders.
“We know there’s a lot of things we need to do to improve, to have more of an impact and help the defense even more,” Mauro said.
“We need to play better to get where we want to go.”