Interceptions highlighted the list of best defensive plays in 2014
Despite several injuries and departures, the Cardinals defense keyed an 11-5 season which resulted in a playoff berth. There was no shortage of impact plays, but here are the five which stood above the rest, in descending order.
5. PICKING A WIN
The situation: The Redskins had a first-and-10 from their 14, trailing the Cardinals 23-20 with 29 seconds remaining in the fourth quarter in Week 5. Washington had scored a touchdown on its previous drive and was looking to get into field goal range to force overtime.
The play: Redskins quarterback Kirk Cousins threw an inaccurate pass and safety Rashad Johnson stepped in for an easy interception. He made his way 28 yards down the sideline and dove inside the pylon for the game-clinching pick-six.
The aftermath: The Cardinals didn't play an inspired game against the Redskins, but Johnson made sure they left victorious, improving their record to 4-1. It was his second career interception return for a score, but as we'll see later on this list, Johnson wasn't done in 2014.
4. SCREEN GRAB
The situation: The Broncos had a second-and-20 from their 28, leading 14-6 with 4:50 left in the second quarter in Week 5. Even stopping Denver from that down and distance wasn't a given based on the way quarterback Peyton Manning was playing.
The play: Denver set up a screen pass to running back Montee Ball, and there was room for him to operate if the throw was completed. However, defensive end Calais Campbell alertly peeled off his rush and stepped into the passing lane, picking off the pass and returning it 23 yards to the Broncos' 5-yard-line.
The aftermath: Running back Andre Ellington scored on a 5-yard run on the next play to cut the deficit to 14-13. The Cardinals would hang around into the fourth quarter but eventually fell, 41-20. Campbell had an impressive first half but left the game early in the third quarter when Denver tight end Julius Thomas chop-blocked him.
3. TO THE HOUSE
The situation: The Falcons had a second-and-5 from the Arizona 25 in Week 13, already leading 17-0 with 14:26 remaining in the second quarter. The Cardinals started flat and were looking for a spark.
The play: Atlanta quarterback Matt Ryan targeted star wideout Julio Jones, but Johnson read it all the way and stepped in for the easy pick. He then weaved his way 88 yards for a touchdown, eluding multiple tacklers and getting key blocks from his defensive counterparts.
The aftermath: The touchdown finally gave the Cardinals some life, and they pulled to within 17-10 later in the quarter. However, that was the highlight of the day, as the Falcons pulled away for a 29-18 win.
2. WHEN PUSH COMES TO SHOVE
The situation: The Eagles had a third-and-10 from the Arizona 16 with one second remaining, trailing 24-20 in Week 8. They had thrown incomplete on the previous two passes and this would decide the game.
The play: Safety Tyrann Mathieu was picked in coverage, allowing Eagles wideout Jordan Matthews to run free toward the corner of the end zone. Johnson alertly left his man, tight end Zach Ertz, and followed the path of the ball. After initially thinking he could intercept the pass, Johnson instead shoved Matthews as he caught it, forcing his feet to land out of bounds.
The aftermath: It was the last nail-biting moment in a fantastic game. Johnson played nearly every defensive snap in 2014 and had a host of memorable plays, but this one was perhaps the most important, securing the win that pushed the Cardinals to 6-1.
1. TIP DRILL
The situation: The Rams had a second-and-9 from their 26 with 5:23 remaining in the fourth quarter, trailing 17-14 in Week 10. The Cardinals had recently taken the lead on a 48-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Drew Stanton to wide receiver John Brown, and the defense was trying to make it hold up.
The play: Rams quarterback Austin Davis threw a short pass to wide receiver Kenny Britt, but the ball glanced off his hands. Cornerback Patrick Peterson showed amazing reflexes by tipping the ball into the air, then settled under it for the interception and returned it 30 yards for a touchdown.
The aftermath: The pick-six essentially put the game away, and cornerback Antonio Cromartie added a fumble recovery for a touchdown a few minutes later to add the exclamation mark. It was Peterson's second interception of the game and the team's most acrobatic of the year.
Images of the five best defensive plays of the Cardinals' 2014 season