Linebacker plays less but forces fumble in overtimeDarren Urban
LAS VEGAS -- Isaiah Simmons was a starter, wearing the green dot and calling the defensive plays, on the field for almost every snap Week 1 against the Chiefs.
Then came Week 2, and the linebacker was not that guy anymore.
Defensive coordinator Vance Joseph cut Simmons' role significantly. Yet there he was, in a crucial situation Sunday when the Cardinals had to stop the Raiders in overtime. And it was Simmons punching the ball loose from Las Vegas wideout Hunter Renfrow, leading to Byron Murphy's game-winning fumble return in a crazy 29-23 win.
Murphy's return was the longest fumble return touchdown in NFL history. It started because Simmons made sure to keep his head in the game even after his demotion.
"It wasn't quite the snap count I was looking forward to, and that's disappointing," Simmons acknowledged. "But I was able to keep my head in the game and being ready when the time comes.
"It's a great feeling. Most importantly, we got the win, and being ale to come in and make a game-changing play, that's always a plus."
Simmons compared it to his rookie year, when he didn't play a lot in a home game against Seattle but ended up making an interception in overtime to set up the Cardinals' game-winning field goal.
"We asked (Isaiah) to practice better, and we reduced his role this week, and we said 'You have to earn it back,' " coach Kliff Kingsbury said. "He had the best week of practice as a pro, and it showed up. He made the biggest play of the game, and I'm really proud of him for attacking that challenge like he did."
Simmons said he heard guys scream "BALL" when he knocked it loose. But by the time he located it, "All I saw was '7' scooping it," he said.
That was Murphy.
There were a couple of tense moments after the touchdown, when replay took a look to see if Murphy had possibly dropped the ball before he was in the end zone. Murphy knew he made it too close, and he was thankful the play stood.
"I think it was a little questionable," Murphy said. "Now that I've seen (the replay), I'm taking that ball all the way to the house. To the crib, to Arizona."