SEATTLE – A host of issues popped up for the Cardinals on both offense and defense in 2018, but an old bugaboo – special teams – was markedly improved all year.
The group saved its best performance for last in Sunday's 27-24 loss to the Seahawks.
"Special teams played lights out," coach Steve Wilks said.
The highlight of the day came in the third quarter, when defensive end Cameron Malveaux blocked a punt and linebacker Dennis Gardner jumped on the ball in the end zone for a touchdown. After a David Johnson two-point conversion, it tied the game at 21.
It was the Cardinals' first blocked punt for a touchdown since 2008, when Sean Morey blocked a Cowboys boot in overtime and Monty Beisel recovered it for the victory. Linebacker Zeke Turner nearly corralled the ball in the end zone and Gardeck was there to jump on it after it squirted away.
"It was indescribable," Gardeck said. "My whole body just went numb … I wrapped the ball and the next thing you know I was up doing (cornerback) Brandon Williams' dance. I didn't know what to do."
That was far from the only impact play of the game from the special teams unit. Gardeck tipped a punt which gave the Cardinals great field position, Pharoh Cooper returned a punt 45 yards, fullback Derrick Coleman downed a punt at the 2, punter Andy Lee wrapped up a sensational year and Zane Gonzalez hit all three of his field goal attempts, including a game-tying 55-yarder with 1:49 remaining in the fourth quarter.
The Cardinals could be staring down mass changes elsewhere but special teams is one area that is not in need of a reboot.
"It's a good group of guys so I'm not really surprised," Gardeck said. "We're a good-effort group, very talented. It was good to finally have all that hard work pay off."
PETERSON TOUCHDOWN WIPED AWAY BY PENALTY
Cornerback Patrick Peterson returned a Chandler Jones strip-sack three yards for a touchdown in the third quarter, but the score was negated due to a holding penalty on linebacker Haason Reddick.
The call gave the Seahawks a first down at their 11 and they flew down the field in just three plays and scored a touchdown on a 17-yard run by Mike Davis. It turned a possible six-point lead into an eight-point deficit.
"That was a weird sequence of plays, but the ref, Sarah (Thomas), she called what she called and the rest was history, those guys went down and scored," Peterson said. "But we still continued to fight."
INTERCEPTION DROUGHT ENDS
Cornerback David Amerson snapped the team's eight-game drought without a pick by intercepting Russell Wilson in the first quarter. The famine dated all the way back to the Broncos game in Week 7, when cornerback Patrick Peterson picked off Case Keenum.
Amerson's interception came on Seattle's first drive, when he read a slant and jumped in front of Seahawks receiver David Moore.