EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — It was moments after the New York Giants lost to the New England Patriots on Oct. 10 and linebacker Markus Golden‘s attention had already turned to their next opponent. It just so happened to be his former team, the Arizona Cardinals.
Golden insists that is just the way he works. He’s a “week-to-week guy.” He was disappointed with the Week 6 loss — in which he returned a fumble 42 yards for a touchdown — and already focused on trying to beat the Cardinals on Sunday (1 p.m. ET, Fox).
Admittedly, this isn’t just another game for Golden, who is showing out so far in a prove-it year with the Giants. He has five sacks in six games this season.
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Golden has had this one circled on his calendar since the schedule was released earlier this year.
“I’d be lying if I said I didn’t,” Golden said. “Just excited to just be able to compete against those guys.”
Many of those guys are his friends. He was taken in the same 2015 draft class as Arizona running back David Johnson and left tackle D.J. Humphries. They are still close, and the Cardinals are the team that gave him his first NFL opportunity.
The Cardinals are also the team that allowed Golden to walk this offseason, two seasons removed from 12.5 sacks. But then came a torn ACL in 2017 and a sub-par season in 2018. It put Golden into free agency with 2.5 sacks the past two years combined. He signed a one-year, $3.75 million deal with the Giants this past offseason.
If there was any doubt Golden could return to the double-digit sack player he was before the injury, it’s disappearing by the week. He has accounted for at least half a sack in five straight games.
“He’s getting there,” said safety Antoine Bethea, a Giants teammate who also spent time with Golden in Arizona.
How does he know?
“Coming off that edge. Chasing that quarterback down. Scoop and score. Diving into the end zone. Those are the type of things MG is capable of doing, and that is what he’s doing for us,” Bethea said. “Great effort. That is what he brings. I’m happy to see him. He’s playing really well.”
It’s not as if Golden’s playing opposite a pass-rusher who will command all the attention, like he did in Arizona with Chandler Jones. He’s not. Golden is the Giants’ top pass-rusher. He leads the team with 12 disruptions, according NFL Next Gen Stats data. He’s tops on the Giants in pass-rush snaps (139), disruptions (12) and tied for first in quarterback pressures (10).
Golden has impressed.
“He’s one of my favorite guys in a lot of ways because he’s so into it. He plays hard. He’s very disruptive. We’re starting to see — we sort of saw it — but I think that people that don’t know Markus are starting to see what he did a couple years ago when he had a lot of impact sacking the quarterback,” coach Pat Shurmur said. “He’s doing a good job, and he’s playing hard and he’s a valuable member of our team.”
This is why the Giants took a gamble on a player who defensive coordinator James Bettcher knew well from his time in Arizona.
Bettcher was the defensive coordinator that season Golden had 12.5 sacks. He expected this … and more.
“He’s really close to being that same guy,” Bettcher said. “Every day the guy is out here working to get better. He’s felt better and better with his health, which is obviously the first thing. Markus and I talked at the beginning of the year. The goal wasn’t to get back to that guy, but to be better than that guy. … If there is anybody who is going to come off an injury like he had and be able to become a better player, it’s this guy. He loves the game. He works tirelessly. A lot of the plays that he makes are second-effort plays, are beyond skills, talent. It’s just mindset and purpose.
“It’s one of the reasons I’ve always loved him.”
But even with Bettcher on staff, the Giants weren’t sure if he would get back to that level. They figured it was worth the risk considering the kind of player he once was and that he now has something to prove.
Golden doesn’t look at it that way. He’s not consumed by his impending free agency or proving he’s back. He’ll worry about all that after the season.
“I guess I have to let y’all answer that question,” he said. “Me, I’m not here to prove nothing. I have a family that believes in me. I have a lot of support, people that believe in me. They’ve been believing in me since I was a kid playing football.”
That’s what keeps Golden going. It’s setting him up for that payday he was hoping would be there this past offseason.
He’s opening eyes with his play again.
“He definitely is, and I think he should be,” defensive captain Alec Ogletree said. “He’s a great teammate, guys around here respect him and what he does. Like I said, the more he keeps going, the better. I’m happy for him, for sure.”
It’s no secret what Golden is trying to attain.
“That he’s back to the level of play he was at before he got injured,” Bethea said. “We talk a lot. He’s out to prove he’s still capable of being that playmaker, that guy that is coming off the edge, getting pressure on the quarterback.”
So far, mission accomplished. And now he gets to show it to his former team.