TEMPE, Ariz. — It is not what it seems, Cardinals linebacker John Abraham was saying Monday.
Quarterbacks are not his enemy. It is the accompanying clutter, the tree stumps and fire plugs and barrel cacti that protect the path to the pocket that provoke him.
So when Abraham faces his former Atlanta teammates on Sunday, fresh off a two-sack game against Seattle, Matt Ryan is the target, sure, but not the object of his wrath.
“People say, ‘John, do you hate quarterbacks?’ ” Abraham said. “I love them. They’re why I get paid. If I meet them, I’m having a good day, right? Tight ends, tackles, they aggravate the hell out of me. I worry about the tackles. And I know the (Atlanta) tackles real good …”
Abraham, 35 going on 25, is having fun again, and it was as evident in his media session Monday as it was in his play in Thursday night’s 34-22 loss to Seattle. Abraham sacked Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson twice and forced a fumble that led to a Cardinals’ field goal early in the fourth quarter.
Injuries to Sam Acho, Lorenzo Alexander and top reserve Alex Okafor opened a starting weakside linebacker spot for Abraham, who showed there is plenty of game left in his 256-pound body after playing more than 60 snaps against Seattle.
“I’m not happy how I got the job, because I hate seeing people get hurt, but I’m glad I got a chance to start and show them I can still play,” Abraham said.
“A lot of people were saying Old John can play only 25, 30 plays a game. I’m an all-time player. I can play any time you put me on the field.”
Abraham, who saw limited time early in the season, had his first two sacks of the season against Seattle as he took another step forward on the NFL career charts. He has 124 sacks, breaking a tie with former Cardinal Simeon Rice on Thursday for 13th place on the career list.
He is closing in on Derrick Thomas (125 ½), Rickey Jackson (128) and Lawrence Taylor (132 ½). His target is 142, which would be one-half more than friend and former New York Giants defensive end Michael Strahan. The two shared the stage in New York for the first half of the 2000s, when Abraham spent six seasons with the Jets and Strahan made his name with the Giants. The two share the same agent.
“I want to get 142 just so I can have something to talk trash to him about,” Abraham said.
Abraham is just as proud of his 45 forced fumbles, and while that is not an official NFL statistic, it plays on the field. Abraham had six in his last season with the Jets in 2005 and six more with Atlanta last season.
“He’s a game-changer. His sacks aren’t just sacks. He’s a cause-fumble guy,” said Cardinals defensive tackler Calais Campbell, adding that Abraham’s veteran presence has been a plus.
“He gets our respect just from his track record. Naturally when he comes into the (locker) room, we listen to what he says because he’s been around for a long time. It is always good to pick his brain and work with him. Just watching him is where you learn a lot. I think some people just are physically blessed, you know? I hope when I’m 35 I can still produce.”
A three-time All-Pro, Abraham joked Monday that he was surprised he could still make such an impact. Regaining full health after an early-season shoulder injury has helped, too.
“I feel like my old self again,” Abraham said. “It feels good to play like yourself. A football game is kind of hard when you can’t be yourself.”
Abraham was a salary cap casualty last March, when the Falcons cut him rather than pay the final $8 million owed on a back-loaded, three-year contract agreed to in 2011. He said he was disappointed when he was released but got over it, and he signed with the Cardinals near the beginning of training camp.
“It is a business thing, and I moved on,” Abraham said. “I wanted to end my career there. I’m 35 years old. You don’t want to keep moving around. It hurt when it happened, but now I’m over it.”
After posting 68 ½ of his sacks in seven seasons in Atlanta, he has nothing to prove to the Falcons this week.
“I think I proved myself in my career,” he said. “I’m 14 years and still playing. They saw seven years of what I got. I’m trying to show Arizona I still have something. I’m mad it took so long for me to show off. I hope it will ride out the rest of the season.”
Abraham was signed as a backup, for those 20-25 plays a game, but more is expected now. He cannot wait.
“If you are sitting on the bench, you can’t do nothing,” he said. “I’m sorry, I’m a team player, but I don’t play on the bench. I love being active. I’ve never been one of those people, a hoo-rah person. ‘Yea, go, go.’ I want to be the guy on the field.
“If we want to win, I have to be on the field. That’s how I feel. I do what they tell me to do, and I try to do it as best as I can. I think I’ve been doing that now.”