As is often the case in the NFL, or in all sports for that matter, there are unexpected heroes that make the difference in any given game.

That was surely what happened on a crazy Sunday in Las Vegas.

We expect the best players to be difference-makers when a game is on the line. And quarterback Kyler Murray certainly was otherworldly down the stretch in the Arizona Cardinals’ 29-23 overtime victory.

Aside from Murray, it was a total team effort. As Murray said, “Everybody chipped in.”

After missing the opener, defensive end J.J. Watt played 42 snaps (63 percent) and contributed two solo tackles, one for loss, a sack, quarterback hit and pass defensed.

Safety Jalen Thompson, who didn’t practice on Wednesday and Thursday because of a toe injury, played all but one defensive snap and led the team with 10 tackles (seven solo) to go with one pass defensed.

Second-year linebacker Zaven Collins, wearing the green dot with Isaiah Simmons effectively benched, had eight tackles (five solo) and a forced fumble in overtime as he played every defensive snap.

Cornerback Jace Whittaker, who played only nine defensive snaps against Kansas City in Week 1, played 45 (67 percent) Sunday and had four tackles (two solo) plus a pass defensed. He was elevated from the practice squad to the roster for the first two games.

“He did a great job,” head coach Kliff Kingsbury said. “My hat’s off to him. He continues to make plays. And he always knows where to be, always knows what to do, has really mastered the defense. He helped us win that game and he played 45 snaps, which was a big, big deal for him.”

As for Simmons, he played only 15 snaps (22 percent), but on the most important one, forced the Hunter Renfrow fumble in overtime that resulted in cornerback Byron Murphy Jr.’s 59-yard, game-winning fumble return.

It is the longest overtime fumble return for a touchdown in NFL history and only the second of at least 50 yards.

Offensively, Darrel Williams and Eno Benjamin stepped up after James Conner suffered an ankle injury on the Cardinals’ first possession of the third quarter. The duo combined for 113 yards from scrimmage, and Williams scored on a 1-yard run in the fourth quarter after wide receiver Marquise Brown’s apparent 25-yard touchdown reception was reversed on replay and became a 24-yard play.

Williams rushed for 59 yards on eight carries with a long of 30 and added three yards on two receptions. Benjamin had eight rushes for 31 yards and three receptions for 20 yards.

In the season opener, Williams played no offensive snaps, but Kingsbury wasn’t surprised by his production Sunday.

“He does everything right,” Kingsbury said after the game. “I’ve told you all along. He always is where he supposed to be. Always runs the right route. Always picks up a protection. When his number is called, he plays his tail off. That’s why we signed him, that’s why we have him. Couldn’t be more excited about the game he had.”

There were many more that could be recounted, but you get the picture.

Charting Cardinals’ snaps (snaps/percentage; starters in bold)

*Indicates player that did not play from scrimmage, but participated on special teams

CARDINALS OFFENSE (87 snaps, 18 players)

Quarterbacks: Kyler Murray (87/100)

Did not play: Trace McSorley. Reserve/injured: Colt McCoy

Running backs: Darrel Williams (40/46), Eno Benjamin (37/43), James Conner (18/21)

Inactive: Keaontay Ingram. Did not play: *Jonathan Ward

Wide receivers: Marquise Brown (81/93), A.J. Green (74/85), Greg Dortch (62/71), Andre Baccellia (19/22)

Inactive: Andy Isabella (injured), Rondale Moore (injured)

Reserve/injured: Antoine Wesley. Reserve/suspended: WR DeAndre Hopkins

Tight ends: Zach Ertz (73/84), Stephen Anderson (19/22), Maxx Williams (12/14), Trey McBride (1/1)

Offensive linemen: LG Justin Pugh (87/100), C Rodney Hudson (87/100), RG Will Hernandez (87/100), RT Kelvin Beachum (87/100), LT D.J. Humphries (86/99), T Josh Jones (1/1)

Did not play: C/G *Sean Harlow, G *Max Garcia. Inactive: C Lecitus Smith. Reserve/injured: G Cody Ford, G Marquis Hayes

CARDINALS DEFENSE (67 snaps, 22 players)

Defensive linemen: DE Zach Allen (56/84), DE J.J. Watt (42/63), NT Rashard Lawrence (33/49), DT Leki Fotu (20/30), DE Michael Dogbe (18/27)

Inactive: DL Jonathan Ledbetter

Linebackers: ILB Zaven Collins (67/100), OLB Markus Golden (28/40), OLB Dennis Gardeck (33/49), ILB Nick Vigil (26/39), OLB Victor Dimukeje (21/31), ILB Tanner Vallejo (20/30), OLB Devon Kennard (17/25), ILB Isaiah Simmons (15/22), ILB Ben Niemann (7/10), ILB Ezekiel Turner (1/1), OLB Cameron Thomas (1/1)

Inactive: OLB Myjai Sanders

Defensive backs: S Budda Baker (67/100), CB Byron Murphy Jr. (66/99), S Jalen Thompson (66/99), CB Marco Wilson (65/97), CB Jace Whittaker (45/67), S Deionte Thompson (1/1)

Did not play: CB *Christian Matthew

Inactive: CB Trayvon Mullen Jr. (injured). Reserve/injured: S Charles Washington. Reserve/non-football injury: CB Antonio Hamilton

CARDINALS SPECIAL TEAMS (21 snaps, 34 players)

LB Tanner Vallejo (19/90), LB Dennis Gardeck (19/90), LB Ben Niemann (15/71), S Deionte Thompson (14/67), RB Darrel Williams (12/57), LB Victor Dimukeje (12/57), CB Christian Matthew (12/57), TE Trey McBride (10/48), LB Ezekiel Turner (10/48), CB Jace Whittaker (10/48), RB Jonathan Ward (9/43), RB/KOR Eno Benjamin (9/43), TE Stephen Anderson (9/43), TE Maxx Williams (7/33), LB Nick Vigil (7/33), NT Rashard Lawrence (5/24), DE Zach Allen (5/24), DT Leki Fotu (5/24), DE Michael Dogbe (5/24), CB Marco Wilson (5/24), S Budda Baker (5/24), P Andy Lee (4/19), LS Aaron Brewer (4/19), K Matt Prater (4/19), WR/PR Greg Dortch (3/14), WR Andre Baccellia (3/14), T D.J. Humphries (1/5), G Justin Pugh (1/5), G Will Hernandez (1/5), T Kelvin Beachum (1/5), C/G Sean Harlow (1/5), G Max Garcia (1/5), T/G Josh Jones (1/5), CB Byron Murphy Jr. (1/5)

Don’t hesitate to comment or ask questions on Twitter @hbalzer721 or email me:


Howard Balzer is in his 47th year covering professional football as a writer, editor and broadcaster and has covered 41 Super Bowls. His connection with pro football began in 1976 with College and Pro Football Newsweekly, and since then he has been a featured columnist for The Sporting News, Pro Football Weekly, USA Today Sports Weekly and The Sports Xchange. Balzer moved to St. Louis in 1978 to work for The Sporting News, where he became Pro Football Editor in 1979. He was an analyst on ESPN's initial broadcast of the NFL Draft in 1980 and continued in that role through 1988. He has won seven writing awards in the Professional Football Writers of America competition, won an Emmy for commentaries on KPLR-TV in St. Louis in 1986 and was nominated for an Emmy in 1988 and 1990. He was named the 2016 winner of the Bob Broeg Media Award presented by the St. Louis/Tom Lombardo Chapter of the National Football Foundation and College Hall of Fame. The award is for enthusiasm, integrity, professionalism and devotion to the game of football and is reserved for individuals whose contributions to football in the St. Louis area have made a significant difference. Balzer was an officer (secretary and secretary/treasurer) for the Professional Football Writers of America for 33 years and was inducted into the St. Louis Jewish Sports Hall of Fame in 2010. Balzer relocated to the Phoenix area in 2020 as the publisher of the FanNation AllCardinals site and is now the Cardinals reporter for PHNX. He is entering his 19th year as one of 49 voting members on the Pro Football Hall of Fame selection committee and is also on the Hall's Seniors Committee. He is the co-host of the weekly Pro Football Hall of Fame radio show on SiriusXM NFL Radio and is a part-time host at ArizonaSports 98.7 FM.