BY: ED COLE
TEMPE, Ariz. – Justin Bethel’s taken his fair share of lumps this season, as he continues to learn what it takes to be a starting cornerback in the NFL.
Bethel’s in his fourth season with the Cardinals, and before this season, he never started a regular season game for the team. Due to various injuries here and there, Bethel’s been thrust into the limelight, and it’s been a struggle for him, as he’s been targeted quite a bit in his five starts (it’s going to be that way when a Pro Bowler in Patrick Peterson is playing on the other side of the field and quarterbacks know not to throw his way).
“You just kind of know that kind of stuff’s gonna happen,” Bethel said. “It’s been happening since I’ve been getting in. I think that last game (NFC Divisional Playoff Game with Green Bay Packers), I felt I played a pretty good game until (those) last couple plays. I think I just gotta do a better job of finishing.”
Bethel’s snap count was reduced quite a bit in the second half of the Packers game, as Jerraud Powers got the majority of the work after Bethel was worked over pretty good by Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers for the second time in three weeks.
Understandably, Bethel was upset with himself after the game, but it took his teammates, coaches and former Cardinals safety Adrian Wilson to bring him back down to earth and tell him to not be so hard on himself.
“He (Wilson) was just saying, ‘Take what happened, (and) take it as a learning experience and use that as fuel for the next game, and just be prepared that they’re gonna come after (you),’” Bethel said. “I just gotta keep moving forward, and just go out there and make the plays because the team’s gonna need me, and I’m gonna have to step up.”
In one of the craziest endings to a football game, it was 4th and 20 from the Green Bay four-yard line, and the Packers had to convert or the game would be over. So, what does Rodgers do? He just launches the ball 60 yards and wide receiver Jeff Janis pulls it in over Bethel and safety Tony Jefferson.
Green Bay would eventually send the game to overtime on another ridiculous Hail Mary between Rodgers and Janis with no time left on the clock. What an insane ending that Bethel thankfully was let off the hook from just a bit thanks to Larry Fitzgerald’s heroics in overtime.
“I was happy that we won,” Bethel said. “It was definitely a sigh of relief after Larry (Fitzgerald) scored. I was like, ‘Oh thank you Jesus, oh man!’”
Bethel’s like a lot of us when we make mistakes. He takes it hard and personal. Being in a high pressure position as he’s in, as a cornerback for the Arizona Cardinals, it’s understandable if he’s a bit more peeved than usual with a trip to the NFC Championship Game on the line, and he was nearly responsible for his team’s elimination in that Packers game.
“At that time, I left some stuff out there on the field, and I felt Iike I could’ve played better,” Bethel said. “At the end of the day, we won the game, and we had to move on, and move onto the next game (NFC Championship Game). After that night, it’s over. I can’t do (anything) about it. Just be happy, and celebrate with my teammates and get ready for Carolina (Panthers).”
This will be a crucial week of practice for Bethel. The mistakes he made against Green Bay cannot be duplicated on Sunday at Bank of America Stadium. If they do, then he and the Cardinals are headed for a painful night.
The Panthers have some real burners for wide receivers, so this will most likely be the biggest test of the season for the Cardinals secondary to try to account for each and every weapon quarterback Cam Newton will have at his disposal.
Bethel’s aware that he’s going to be at the top of of his game if he’s to help guide the Cardinals to an NFC title and their second trip to the Super Bowl.
“They love to go deep; that’s their thing,” Bethel said. “They got Teddy Ginn, who’s their main deep threat. As long as we can take that away, and force them to run, and we do a good job of stopping the run, I think we’ll be good to go.”