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Dwight Freeney makes most of chance with Cardinals

Linebacker Dwight Freeney #54 and defensive end Frostee

Linebacker Dwight Freeney #54 and defensive end Frostee Rucker #92 of the Arizona Cardinals celebrate after a play during the NFL game against the Green Bay Packers at University of Phoenix Stadium on December 27, 2015 in Glendale, Arizona. Credit: Getty Images / Norm Hall

Dwight Freeney was getting tired of waiting. The 2015 season was chugging along and the out- of-work defensive end was not getting any interest from any team.

“I said, ‘[Forget] this, I’m about to retire,’ ” he recalled of that time this past fall. “And then Bruce Arians gave me that call. Honestly, I was one week away from retiring.”

Now he could be a week (plus a few days) away from returning to the Super Bowl.

The 35-year-old played 11 games in his 14th NFL season after signing with the Cardinals on Oct. 12. He had eight sacks, his most since 2011, despite playing a limited on-field role. He’ll look to add to that impact Sunday in the NFC Championship Game against the Panthers in Carolina.

“I think I made the right decision,” he said of signing with the Cardinals, noting that his assessment has nothing to do with their playoff success. “I think I made the right decision before all of this.”

Freeney had 111 1⁄2 sacks before this season, most of them with the Colts. He spent 2013 and 2014 with the Chargers, and in 20 games, he had only four sacks. “In the last years that I’ve played, the numbers haven’t been there,” he said, “but I’ve always been in the top five or 10 as far as affecting the quarterback, hurries and things of that nature.”

Arians knew Freeney from their time together on the Colts. It was that familiarity that helped lure him to Arizona.

“The amount of talent this team has, and I’m so familiar with so much of the coaching staff and the people here,” Freeney said. “It’s like an extended family from Indianapolis. It’s definitely been an experience for me.”

Similar, in some ways, to the Colts teams that he helped get to two Super Bowls and one title.

“Personally, it’s a little bit different role, but it’s a lot of similar types of feelings,” he said. “A high-powered offense scoring a lot of points. We have some great weapons here. Probably some more talent than my Indy days. It’s a really similar feel in terms of the city and how we win and finding ways to win.”

Freeney also has added to the maturity of the team. He’s one of a handful of thirty-somethings — along with Larry Fitzgerald and Carson Palmer — who are guiding the team through this postseason run.

“It’s important to have veteran leadership,” Freeney said. “When you’re a rookie, you don’t really know much. It’s not your fault, you haven’t been there, you don’t understand. You have to have some veteran guys out there who know it. On this team, we have a good mix, a bunch of guys in their 30s and a lot of young guys.”

Said Arians, “It always helps to have guys who have been on Super Bowl teams to be with the younger guys and explain it to them. The younger guys have responded very well to it.”

So has this older guy.

“I could be 90 years old and I’d still think I could come out and have a three-sack game,” Freeney said. “It may not happen, but you have to have confidence in your ability. I always knew I could still play. It’s a matter of timing sometimes.”

For him and the Cardinals, that timing couldn’t have been better.

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