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Top Five Plays Of 2014: Special Teams

Memorable performances from the specialists

The top moments from the Cardinals' special teams group this season

While it's impossible to know when they'll happen, special teams plays can quickly change the complexion of a game. The Cardinals had several key ones this season, and here are the top five, in descending order.

5. LEACH FLIPS THE FIELD

Long snapper Mike Leach likes to be anonymous, because it means he's sending the ball to the right place. In Week 15 against the Rams, he was in the special teams spotlight. The Cardinals lost quarterback Drew Stanton to a sprained knee early in the third quarter, which put the onus on the rest of the players to guard a 9-3 lead. Leach did his part, sprinting downfield in punt coverage, pinpointing a ball above his head and sprawling out to down it at the St. Louis 5 late in the third quarter. The defense then forced a three-and-out and the Cardinals got a field goal on their next possession for an all-important two-possession lead.

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4. CAT-MAN CAN'T MISS

Rookie undrafted free agent Chandler Catanzaro had to win the kicking job in training camp, but even once he did, there was no guarantee how it would carry over to the regular season. That fear was abated early, as Catanzaro hit each of his first 17 field goal attempts, which tied Kai Forbath for the most consecutive makes to start a career. He finally missed a 53-yard attempt against the Rams, but still finished the year 29-of-33 while delivering consistently deep kickoffs.

3. NINE IS JUST FINE

The Cardinals were discombobulated when the 49ers lined up for a field goal in the fourth quarter in Week 3. A pair of linebackers ran off the field when they were supposed to stay on, leaving the field goal blocking unit with only nine players. That didn't faze defensive tackle Tommy Kelly. He pushed hard up the middle and thrust his big arm into the path of the ball. Phil Dawson's kick ricocheted off it, preserving the Cardinals' six-point lead in an eventual 23-14 win. Coach Bruce Arians joked about the missing players the next day. "We'll try it with 11 guys next time," he quipped.

2. AROUND THE EDGE

The Cardinals and Cowboys matched up in an NFC heavyweight showdown in Week 9, and Dallas was primed to cut a 14-10 deficit to one point heading into the half. However, cat-quick Justin Bethel screamed around the edge and blocked Dan Bailey's 35-yard field goal attempt. Cornerback Patrick Peterson nearly returned it for a touchdown, but was hauled down as the second quarter ended. Still, Bethel's block saved three points in a game the Cardinals went on to win.

1. GINN SPARKS THE WIN

The presence of backup quarterbacks was a familiar theme by the end of the season, but the Cardinals weren't expecting it in Week 2. Nonetheless, a shoulder injury sidelined Carson Palmer, and the team was tasked with winning a road game without their starter. The offense wasn't at peak form, so wide receiver Ted Ginn took the matter into his own hands in the punt return game. With the Cardinals trailing 14-13 with 10:28 remaining in the fourth quarter, Ginn fielded a punt from Steve Weatherford and returned it 71 yards for the go-ahead score. The momentum-changing touchdown held up in a 25-14 win to help kickstart the team's 9-1 start.

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