Wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald makes a catch during the Cardinals' game-winning field-goal drive Sunday night in their 34-31 win over the Bengals.
On a night when Carson Palmer had to dig out of a personal hole, the quarterback had one more drive he needed to engineer.
The Cardinals had allowed the Bengals to tie the game and Palmer sat at his own 16-yard line with 58 seconds left and no timeouts. Coach Bruce Arians certainly wasn't going to sit on it and play for overtime, and for Palmer, there was nothing in particular to say to his teammates.
"No speeches necessary," Palmer said, after the Cardinals came up with a 34-31 win over the Bengals at University of Phoenix Stadium.
It looked simple, too. A 19-yard pass to rookie J.J. Nelson. An 18-yard pass to Larry Fitzgerald and then another 20-yarder to Fitzgerald to easily get into field goal range. Sure, it got dicey at the end when guard Ted Larsen looked like he false-started, but it turned out the Bengals drew him off by yelling
signals. And kicker Chandler Catanzaro booted the first game-winning field goal of his short career.
"That's why we schedule these things for 60 minutes," a smiling Arians said.
With back-to-back wins on "Sunday Night Football" and the Vikings (7-3) losing Sunday, the Cardinals (8-2) now are alone as the No. 2 seed in the NFC behind Carolina (10-0). NBC certainly has gotten entertainment value from the Cards, after their dramatic come-from-behind win in Seattle the week before.
At least the Cardinals got to kneel down at the end in Seattle. There was a time it looked like the Cards would do the same against the Bengals (8-2). A rough first half – the Cards trailed 14-7 and Palmer threw two first-quarter interceptions – gave way to a spectacular third quarter in which Palmer completed 9-of-11 passes for 171 yards and three touchdowns.
"I was just a little out of sync," Palmer said, acknowledging he was pressing early playing against his former team. "I just shook it off and kept playing."
With a 28-21 lead, rookie linebacker Markus Golden crashed into Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton for a sack and forced a fumble that safety Deone Bucannon recovered at the Cincinnati 10-yard line. With 8:41 left, a touchdown looked like it would bury the Bengals.
But Palmer nearly lost a fumble himself, and Catanzaro had to kick the field goal, and the Bengals had life. The Cardinals, meanwhile soon had to hang on for theirs.
The Cardinals already lost starting defensive tackle Frostee Rucker with an ankle sprain, and then cornerback Patrick Peterson – who had done a great job covering Bengals receiver A.J. Green all game – left with a right ankle injury. It left either Jerraud Powers or Justin Bethel on Green.
So it was Bethel on Green for the third-and-2 shot to the end zone and Cincinnati down three with barely a minute left. Bethel had his hands on the interception, only to have it bounce off him and into Green's hands – who thought he might have a dramatic touchdown, only to be ruled out of bounds.
"When it hits you right in the hands and you drop it, and on top of that it looks like he catches it in the end zone, it's like, 'Man, I can't believe this happened,' " Bethel said. "It was definitely an interesting play."
The ensuing field goal tied the game, and set the stage for Palmer and nearly a twist ending. After getting the ball to the Cincinnati 27 and then kneeling in the middle of the field to set up the Catanzaro attempt, Palmer waited for the clock to sink below 10 seconds intending to spike it. While he waited, Larsen suddenly came out of his stance.
The Cardinals out of timeouts, a penalty on Larsen with the clock running would mean a 10-second runoff, and overtime. Larsen admitted he was worried the officials would flag him.
"(Expletive) yes," he said.
But it turned out Bengals defensive tackle Domata Peko was flagged for unsportsmanlike conduct for simulating the snap count. It moved the kick 14 yards closer for Catanzaro and left Bengals coach Marvin Lewis miffed.
"They get the phantom call there at the end, it's kind of ridiculous," Lewis said.
"I guess they are familiar with Carson's snap count, and they timed it up right," Larsen said. "It's really a situation where you want to err on the side of not (false starting.) That could have easily been a 10-second runoff."
It wasn't, and the Cardinals had their fourth straight win.
The Cards were held under 100 yards rushing for only the second time this season, but Palmer ended up completing 20-of-31 passes for 317 yards and four touchdowns. Rookie J.J. Nelson made up for the absence of injured wideout Michael Floyd (hamstring) with four catches for 142 yards and his first NFL touchdown, while Fitzgerald had eight catches for 90 more yards.
Dalton played well too (22-of-39 for 315 yards, two scores and no interceptions) as the Cardinals managed to win yet again while losing the turnover battle (minus-1). But for a second straight week, they manage to win the game in the fourth quarter – getting a win against a team with a winning record for the first time – and do it in dramatic fashion fitting for a network appearance on primetime.
"It was the 100th game at University of Phoenix Stadium," Fitzgerald said, flashing a smile. "We had to give the crowd what they were looking for. They don't pay all that money to watch us peter out at the end."
Images from the Cardinals' Week 11 matchup with the Bengals on "Sunday Night Football"