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Cardinals' Top Plays Of 2021: Special Teams

Helmet-catch by Jonathan Ward was easy top choice

The importance of special teams is an underrated phase in football; it can quickly impact a game's outcome, which the Cardinals have experienced this season. Here are the top five special teams plays of the 2021 season, as voted on by staff.

6. Dennis Gardeck executes two false starts in San Francisco to let Sean Harlow practice long snaps

The situation: The Cardinals had the ball at the San Francisco 41, leading 31-17 with 3:40 left in the fourth quarter.

The play: Dennis Gardeck commits back-to-back false starts intentionally to help Sean Harlow, who was filling in for injured starting long snapper Aaron Brewer, to get practice reps.

The aftermath: The two flags moved the Cardinals 10 yards back, but the penalties didn't affect the game's outcome. Harlow got off the snap to punter Andy Lee, and safety Budda Baker moments later sealed the 31-17 victory at Levi's Stadium with an interception.

5. Matt Prater nails a 55-yard FG at Los Angeles

The situation: The Cardinals had the ball at Los Angeles 37, leading the Rams, 24-13, with 10:19 left in the third quarter.

The play: Lee, as holder, received the snap and Prater drilled the kick towards the right side for the successful field goal.

The aftermath: The field goal extended the Cardinals' lead over the Rams and was the second made field goal from Prater on the afternoon. Prater made a 23-yarder earlier in the game. The Cardinals beat the Rams, 37-13. It was one of seven field goals of at least 50 yards Prater made on the season, tying his career-best.

4. Joseph misses field goal at end of Vikings game

The situation: The Vikings had the ball at the Arizona 19, trailing the Cardinals, 34-33, with four seconds left in the fourth quarter.

The play: On the Vikings' final offensive possession of the game, quarterback Kirk Cousins connected with wideouts Adam Thelin, K.J Osborn and Justin Jefferson to move the chains and give kicker Greg Joseph a chance to finish the game. But his 37-yard kick sailed wide right for an emotional Cardinals win.

The aftermath: The missed kick allowed the Cardinals to remain unbeaten on the season, while the Vikings suffered their second consecutive loss to remain winless in 2021.

3. Fake-out punt return by Byron Murphy against Colts

The situation: The Colts had a fourth-and-15 at the Indianapolis 46, while leading the Cardinals ,12-6, with 12:30 left in the third quarter.

The play: After safety Budda Baker sacked quarterback Carson Wentz to end their offensive drive, Rigoberto Sanchez launched a 44-yard punt. Punt returner Christian Kirk feigned that the ball was coming to him on one side of the field, fooling the Colts, as Byron Murphy Jr. caught the ball on the other side of the field and raced back 48 yards.

The aftermath: The trick play gave the Cardinals' offense excellent field possession to work with at the Indianapolis 42. Three plays later, Kyler Murray threw a TD pass to take the lead.

2. Prater 62-yard FG against Vikings

The situation: The Cardinals had the ball at the Minnesota 44 with one second left in the second quarter.

The play: With only 16 seconds left at his own 34, quarterback Kyler Murray managed to hit Rondale Moore twice with passes totaling 22 yards and setting up Prater, who knocked it right through the middle for the second 60-yard field goal (64 was his previous) of his career.

The aftermath: Prater's successful attempt ranked as the longest in Cardinals' franchise history, and the Cardinals regained the lead heading into halftime. Prater connected on 70 percent of his kicks from 50 yards or more over the season.

1. Jonathan Ward makes a spectacular catch on fake punt in Dallas

The situation: The Cardinals had the ball at the Arizona 36, leading 3-0 with 10:34 left in the second quarter.

The play: The Cardinals lined up in punt formation but the snap went to up-man Chris Banjo. He sprinted right before heaving the ball to a well-covered Ward. Somehow, Ward catches the pass with one hand by pinning the ball on the defender's helmet while falling to the turf.

The aftermath: The sensational catch kept the Cardinals' offensive drive alive. A few plays later, Murray connected with Antoine Wesley for the touchdown to extend the Cardinals' lead over the Cowboys. The Cardinals ended up with a 25-22 victory at AT&T Stadium.