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Cardinals' Top Plays Of 2022: Defense

Crazy ending in Vegas was inevitable to top the list

At times, the Cardinals' defense played very well, especially at the start of the season. That side of the ball kept the team in games and early on had a hand in winning a couple of games. But at no time -- as sideways as the season went -- did the defense stop playing, which was a real credit to its leaders, in particular safety Budda Baker and defensive lineman J.J. Watt.

Here's a look at the top five defensive plays of the 2022 season, as voted on by the azcardinals.com staff.

5. Playing his final game, J.J. Watt take a bow after sacking the quarterback in San Francisco

The situation: The 49ers had a 2nd-and-9 at their own 39-yard line, leading 7-6, at the 8:29 mark of the first quarter.

The play: Lined up in a three-point stance over right guard Spencer Burford, Watt rushed inside between Burford and center Jake Brendel. Watt faced very little resistance from Burford and arrived in the backfield where Purdy had taken the shotgun snap. Initially, Watt got just his left hand on Purdy. He then swung his right arm over to get a second hand on Purdy and took him down to the ground. Watt immediately got to his feet, took a few steps and bowed to the crowd.

The aftermath: It was the first of two sacks on the day for Watt, who a few weeks earlier had announced this season would be his last one in the NFL. Watt finished the season leading the team in sacks (12.5), tackles for loss (18) and quarterback hits (25). Also, Watt made Purdy the 50th different quarterback he sacked in his soon-to-be Hall-of-Fame career.

4. Zaven Collins' first career interception is a pick-6 against the Seahawks

The situation: The Seahawks had a 1st-and-10 at their own 40-yard line, leading 10-7, at the 9:26 mark of the third quarter.

The play: Standing up as an edge rusher, Collins saw the Seahawks in a pistol formation with running back Kenneth Walker three yards behind quarterback Geno Smith. At the snap, Collins engaged right tackle Abraham Lucas. Their interaction did not last long. Collins read the play is a screen pass to Walker, who had flared to the right. Collins stepped into the passing lane, jumped and with his right hand tipped the football. After a brief juggle, Collins secured the football into his chest and then started running towards the end zone. With the football cradled in his left arm, Collins sprinted past Lucas and a late-charging Walker 30 yards for the score.

The aftermath: For the second time in the game, the Cardinals had the lead. They would lose the lead again and eventually the game, 31-21. The touchdown was the team's fifth on defense, which at the time led the league. It also marked the first time since 2015 that the Cardinals had scored five defensive touchdowns.

3. Isaiah Simmons runs 56 yards to record his first career pick-6 in a game against the Saints

The situation: The Saints had a 3rd-and-10 at their own 47-yard line, trailing 20-14, with 57 seconds remaining in the first half.

The play: Playing well off the line of scrimmage in the middle of the field, Simmons locked in on quarterback Andy Dalton. Meanwhile, the Cardinals rushed five. Cameron Thomas beat left guard Calvin Throckmorton and hit Dalton as he threw downfield, looking for wide receiver Chris Olave. The pass was underthrown by about 10 yards. Simmons reached out his right hand, made the one-handed catch and took off running. He split three Saints players, with Byron Murphy offering interference on wide receiver Tre'Quan Smith. Simmons went the rest of the way down the sideline and into the end zone, easily eluding left tackle James Hurst, who lunged at Simmons at the 5-yard line.

The aftermath: After successfully going for two, the Cardinals extended their lead to 28-14, recording their second pick-6 in as many defensive possessions. The Cardinals won the game, 42-34. For Simmons, it was third career interception and his first touchdown since his sophomore year at Clemson.

2. Marco Wilson somersaults into the end zone to complete his interception return for a touchdown in a game against the Saints

The situation: With the game tied at 14 with 2:28 remaining in the first half, the Saints had a 1st-and-10 at their own 35-yard line.

The play: With the Saints showing a three wide-receiver set, Wilson lined up opposite Marquez Callaway on the short side of the field. On the snap of the ball, Callaway broke inside readying himself for the quick slant pass from Dalton, who was well protected inside the pocket. The throw was on target, but the football went off the hands of Callaway and into Wilson's. Without breaking stride, Wilson headed towards the end zone. He had a clear path. The 38-yard return was punctuated by a Wilson somersault—he took off from the 4-yard line—into the end zone.

The aftermath: Thanks to Wilson's first career touchdown, and also his first career interception, the Cardinals took their first lead of the game, 20-14. Wilson would add two more interceptions in Week 17, but none had quite the style as No. 1, which became a meme.

1. Walkoff! Byron Murphy wins it with a fumble return for a touchdown in overtime in Las Vegas

The situation: With the game tied at 23 with 4:05 remaining in overtime, the Raiders had a 2nd-and-10 at the Arizona 39-yard line.

The play: Looking to get into field-goal range, quarterback Derek Carr threw a quick pass to wide receiver Hunter Renfrow near the Cardinals sideline. The throw was a bit low, yet Renfrow made the catch. He was met immediately by Jace Whittaker, but he shook himself free of Whittaker's attempted tackle. Then Simmons entered the picture. With force. Simmons' hit separated Renfrow from the football. A scramble ensured. Murphy picked up the loose football with his left hand and took off running down the sideline. At the 10-yard line, he began to celebrate, raising his left hand -- still clutching the football -- into the air. Near the goal line, Murphy switched the football over to his right hand and as he crossed the plane, he tossed the football.

The aftermath: The play was upheld after review, allowing the Cardinals to officially celebrate their first win of the season, 29-23. The 59-yard return marked the longest overtime fumble return touchdown in league history (regular season or postseason). Murphy, whose season was limited to nine games because of a back injury, led the team with two fumble recoveries.

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