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Tuesday, December 13, 2011
2011 NFC West game changers: Week 14

By Mike Sando

Long pass plays have kept the Arizona Cardinals competitive in most games this season.

The Cardinals have completed 14 passes covering 40 yards or longer, one behind the New York Giants for the NFL lead. The total is one more than the rest of the NFC West combined (Seattle 6, San Francisco 4, St. Louis 3).

Those pass plays weren't translating to victories consistently without key plays on special teams (think Patrick Peterson) and, most recently, from an improving defense. It was fitting, then, that the Cardinals' final defensive stand against San Francisco assumed the top spot in our weekly chart showing most pivotal plays from NFC West games.

The Cardinals chased 49ers quarterback Alex Smith and ultimately forced a pass running back Kendall Hunter could not control. The Cardinals took over possession on downs and ran out the clock for a 21-19 victory at University of Phoenix.

The win-probability models ESPN uses suggest the Cardinals' chances for winning improved from about 66 percent to near certainty once Smith's pass fell incomplete. Long pass completions by the Cardinals filled the next three spots on the chart.