Andy Lee's turn as a passer jumps to the top of the listCraig Grialou
Often overlooked, special teams plays an important role to a team's success and/or failure. The swings in momentum during a game are often tied to how well that phase is executed -- in addition to sometimes providing the most exciting plays in a game.
Here's a look at the top five special teams plays of the 2022 season, as voted on by the azcardinals.com staff.
5. Matt Prater boots game-tying 56-yard field goal against the Buccaneers
The situation: The Cardinals had a 4th-and-7 at the Tampa Bay 38-yard line, trailing 3-0, with 37 seconds remaining in the first quarter.
The play: The snap from Aaron Brewer was a bit high. Andy Lee pulled the football down and teed it up perfectly for Matt Prater, who had begun his run-up from the Cardinals logo at midfield. Prater's right foot connected with the football, sending the football into the air and through the uprights with little doubt as to the result.
The aftermath: The field goal tied the game at 3. Prater would add a 53-yarder in the second quarter. All totaled, he made five field goals of 50 or more yards this season, extending his own league record of most made 50-plus yard field goals in a career to 71. By the way, the 56-yard kick would have been good from 63 yards according to NBC, which was broadcasting the Christmas night game.
4. Fake punt! Darrel Williams takes the direct snap and runs for the first down against the Eagles
The situation: The Cardinals faced a 4th-and-4 at their own 28-yard line, trailing 14-7, with 1:55 remaining in the first half.
The play: After huddling, the Cardinals raced up to the line of scrimmage and got set with Williams positioned as the personal protector. He took the direct snap from Brewer and immediately headed right, towards the wide side of the field. The blocking along the line was perfect. Ezekiel Turner, Tanner Vallejo, Stephen Anderson and Victor Dimukeje all had a hand in giving Williams the room to run past the 30 and all the way up to the 35 for a seven-yard gain.
The aftermath: With new life, the Cardinals were able to move into field goal range. Matt Ammendola kicked a 20-yard field goal as the first half ended with the Cardinals trailing 14-10. They would lose a close game to the then-undefeated Eagles, 20-17.
3. Pharoh Cooper hurdles the Buccaneers punter on the way to a season-long 28-yard return
The situation: The Buccaneers had a 4th-and-2 at their own 25-yard line, trailing 9-6, with 12:39 remaining in the fourth quarter.
The play: Standing at the Arizona 30-yard line, Cooper ran up and fielded the punt at the 39. He angled to the right, towards the Buccaneers sideline. There he found space to head up field thanks to blocks from both Anderson and Kamu Grugier-Hill, while Dennis Gardeck held off long snapper Zach Triner. Now passed midfield, Cooper saw punter Jake Camarda go low for an attempted tackle so Cooper went high. He hurdled Camarda at the 40 before being pushed out of bounds at the 33 by running back Giovani Bernard.
The aftermath: The long return handed the Cardinals their best starting field position of the game. Five plays later, James Conner ran for a 22-yard touchdown to extend the team's lead to 16-6 in a game they would eventually lose 19-16 in overtime. Over his five games with the Cardinals, Cooper averaged 13 yards on nine punt returns.
2. Chris Banjo recovers an Ezekiel Turner-caused fumble on a punt for a touchdown in Seattle
The situation: The Seahawks had a 4th-and-19 at their own 10-yard line, leading 12-3, with 59 seconds remaining in the third quarter.
The play: The Cardinals went after punter Michael Dickson. They rushed eight. Standing in his own end zone, Dickson took a step-and-a-half in an attempt to begin his kicking motion, but he saw an unblocked Turner bearing down on him. Dickson pulled the football down and immediately got hit; first by Turner and then by Ben Niemann. The football was knocked loose and Banjo fell on it for the touchdown.
The aftermath: Turner got credit for the forced fumble. Banjo recorded his first career touchdown, making the score 12-9 Seahawks. It just so happened to be the only touchdown scored in the game by the Cardinals, who wound up losing 19-9. At the time, it was team's second defensive/special teams touchdown. They finished the season with five.
1. Andy Lee shows off his arm, completing a pass to convert a 4th-and-2 against the Buccaneers
The situation: On their first possession of the game, trailing 3-0, the Cardinals faced a 4th-and-2 at their own 45-yard line at the 10:45 mark of the first quarter.
The play: Seeing how the Buccaneers lined up, Turner made the call, signaling by patting his hands on his thighs. Lee shifted two steps to his right. On the snap, Grugier-Hill, who was positioned to Turner's left in the backfield, motioned right and made his way up field. Lee took the snap, slid to the right and threw the football just over the hands of two Buccaneers players. Grugier-Hill caught the ball in stride at the 45 and was brought down at the 49, well past the line to gain, by cornerback Dee Delaney.
The aftermath: Unfortunately, the drive stalled when Trace McSorley was strip-sacked but still. The play produced the first-ever target and catch in Grugier-Hill's career, while Lee completed his first pass attempt since 2020. He improved his career passing numbers to 3-of-4 for 56 yards with all three completions going for a first down.