Chandler Catanzaro lined up for a 32-yard field goal and knocked it right down the middle to give the Arizona Cardinals (7-2) their fourth straight win and hand the Cincinnati Bengals (7-2) back-to-back losses for the first time since 2013.
The Bengals could not collect their first Sunday Night Football road win since 1992, falling in the desert to the Cardinals by a 34-31 final score.
How the game concluded with a three point finish was a roller coaster of ups and downs for both teams.
Cardinals’ quarterback Carson Palmer was facing his former team for the second time since his 2011 departure–hoping the result would be better than the 34-10 loss the Bengals handed the Oakland Raiders in 2012.
Facing the league’s best scoring defense, Palmer tossed four touchdowns, bringing his 2015 total to 27, the most in the NFL.
Palmer had to overcome a pair of interceptions on Arizona’s first three drives. Leon Hall stepped in front of a 3rd and long pass to Larry Fitzgerald on the Cardinals’ opening possession. After a Cincinnati punt, Reggie Nelson then picked off the ex-Bengal and led to the first points of the game.
Quarterback Andy Dalton took a lot of the blame for the Bengals’ first loss of the season– a 10-6 loss to the Houston Texans last Monday Night.
This re-opened the narrative that Cincinnati could not win on the game’s biggest stage, and they were looking to rebound against one of the top teams in the NFC.
Dalton tossed two touchdowns, both going to tight end Tyler Eifert, who set the Bengals’ tight-end single season record for touchdowns in the loss on Sunday.
Dalton finished the game with 315 yards on 22 of 39 passes and two scores. He became just the second 300-yard passer allowed by the Cardinals this season, joining Drew Brees of the New Orleans Saints.
Dalton now has 20 touchdowns this season, already one more than his total from all of last season.
The Bengals’ defense came into Sunday’s game as the league’s best scoring defense having allowed just 10 points in three straight games for the first time since 2006.
However, the third quarter was the game’s turning points as the Cardinals dominated on every level.
Arizona rallied off 21 unanswered points, all coming on touchdown passes from Palmer. Overall in the third, the Cardinals out-gained the Bengals 195 to negative one and took a 28-14 lead.
After three consecutive punts to begin the second half and in desperate need of a score, the Bengals lead an 11-play/80-yard drive, with Dalton connecting on six of seven passes for 80 yards.
Dalton’s biggest hit was a 10-yard strike to Mohamed Sanu on 4th down that set the Bengals up with a goal-to-go opportunity.
Two plays later, Jeremy Hill dove in from one-yard out to cut the Cardinals’ lead to 28-21. Hill scored twice on Sunday Night, giving him eight total touchdowns this season– it was the first time the Bengals have lost a regular season game when Hill scores a touchdown.
The Bengals were +2 in the turnover department courtesy of Palmer’s first-quarter interceptions, but Cincinnati’s lone turnover on the night proved costly.
Trailing by seven, Dalton was sacked and lost the handle on the football, the coughed up pigskin landed right in the hands of Markus Golden. This led to the first field goal for Catanzaro to push the Cardinals lead to 31-21.
Once again, however, the Bengals did not fold. Brandon Tate ran the ensuing kickoff 58 yards to set Cincinnati up at midfield, his longest kickoff return since a 71-yard run back in 2013.
Eight plays later, Dalton zipped his second touchdown of the game to Eifert, this one from 10-yards out, to cut the Cardinal lead to three.
After another defensive stand, Cincinnati got back possession, needing 84 yards for the game-winning touchdown.
On 1st and 10 from the 37-yard-line, Dalton found running back Giovani Bernard over-the-middle for 30 yards to put the Bengals in Arizona territory.
Bernard was an enormous duel-threat for the entire game. Despite only tallying 18 rushing yards, Bernard caught a team-high eight receptions for 128 yards.
The Bengals faced 3rd and two from the Cardinals’ 25 with just over a minute remaining, the biggest play of the game.
Arizona had no timeouts, but the Bengals stopped the clock when Dalton’s pass to AJ Green in the end zone was deflected and incomplete as Green’s right heel hit the pylon at the goal-line.
Green finished with four receptions for 79 yards on 12 targets.
Mike Nugent knocked home a 43-yard field goal to tie the game at 31, but the incomplete pass allowed Arizona to have enough time to drive down for the game-winner.
Palmer hit three straight passes on the final drive for 57 yards, the first going to rookie J.J Nelson, who had a career day under the bright lights of prime time, including a 64-yard touchdown catch to tie the game at 14 in the third quarter.
Nelson was the Cardinals’ leading receiver last night with 142 yards on four catches.
The final two Palmer completions went to the sure-handed Fitzgerald–covering 38 yards. Fitzgerald finished the game with eight catches for 90 yards.
An unsportsmanlike conduct penalty on Domata Peko was called for allegedly trying to mimic Palmer’s cadence. The penalty moved the Cardinals inside the Bengals red zone, allowing Catanzaro to hit a chip-shot field goal to move the Cardinals to 7-2.
Health had been a major advantage for the Bengals going into Sunday, but injuries unfortunately struck the Bengals on Sunday, specifically in the secondary.
Adam Jones missed the loss to Arizona, adding to that, second-year corner Darqueze Dennard suffered a shoulder injury that will side line him for the rest of 2015.
This led to younger guys like Shawn Williams and rookie Josh Shaw to see more playing time against one of the best passers in the NFL.
On Arizona’s first touchdown, Williams had perfect position on Cardinals’ tight end Darren Fells in the end zone, but miss-timed his jump for the route and Wells hauled it in to tie the game at seven.
On a troubling note, the Bengals had many miscues that led to their second straight loss. Hill had a personal foul that brought Cincinnati’s first drive of the game to a halt, but that was just one of many yellow flags brought on by Bengals’ mistakes.
Cincinnati was penalized 10 times for 108 yards, the highest mark in a game this season.
In the end, it’s a loss, but the Bengals showed great fight rallying from down 14 in the second half, on-the-road, against one of best teams in the NFL.
Unfortunately, the loss for Cincinnati tightens the race for the AFC North-crown. The Pittsburgh Steelers (6-4) had their bye week and gained a half game on the first-place Bengals following the Sunday Night Cardinals’ win.
The Bengals will come back to the Queen City for a match up with the St. Louis Rams (4-6) losers of three straight games.
Latest posts by Grant E. Doepel (see all)
- Opening Day: Five-run eighth lifts Reds over Phillies - April 4, 2016
- Bengals Rally Comes Up Short, Fall to Cardinals - November 23, 2015
- Browns at Bengals: 3 Bold Predictions - November 5, 2015