CINCINNATI – It had been emotional all week for the Arizona Cardinals, with owner Bill Bidwill passing away a few days before the team came to play the Bengals.
Fitting Sunday's game would be packed with emotion as well.
The Cardinals looked like they had locked up their first victory of the season with a 14-point lead with seven minutes left, only to blow that lead and need a Kyler Murray-directed game-winning drive that culminated with Zane Gonzalez's 31-yard field goal on the last play of the game for a 26-23 win.
"It was great to see the ball go through the uprights," said team president – and Bill's son -- Michael Bidwill.
The Cardinals (1-3-1) piled up 514 yards of total offense and 266 yards rushing, totals that feel very much like what a Kliff Kingsbury offense could potentially bring to the table. That didn't make the late defensive collapse feel much better, when the Cardinals' thin secondary – starting cornerback Tramaine Brock left the game with a shoulder injury – couldn't make enough plays, but it was better than the alternative.
"It was a day we can definitely build off of," said wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald, who had a team-high six catches for 58 yards.
All because of that final score. Kingsbury said he wasn't thinking much of his first NFL victory, only that he was happy for all his players who had worked up to this point. Murray, who had already lost this year as many games as he had as a starter in high school and college, said he was just proud of the team.
But the pressure was real. How much did the Cardinals need the win?
"I'll say badly," running back Chase Edmonds said. "And that's the truth."
It started poorly. The Bengals (0-5) rushed for more yards on the opening drive (65) than they had averaged rushing per game all season up to Sunday (49.5.) But the Cardinals (1-3-1) adjusted, allowing running back Joe Mixon only 33 yards rushing after that initial possession.
Offensively, the Bengals tried to play two safeties high and make it hard for the Cardinals to pass. So they ran. And ran. And ran some more. Murray ended up with a team-high 93 yards rushing and the first touchdown. David Johnson – dealing with a bad back -- ran for 91 yards and added 65 receiving. Edmonds had 68 yards rushing, including the 37-yard TD run that should've wrapped up the win given the 14-point lead.
But it didn't. It didn't because again the Cardinals couldn't score in the red zone – ultimately they got one TD in six trips inside the 20, albeit they were trying to score on the last one as they set up the field goal – and because the defense couldn't hold up.
"We squeezed it out at the end," linebacker Jordan Hicks said. "There are a lot of mistakes on that film we have to correct. … It seemed like, when we were running something, they ran 'beaters' for it. Credit to them. We had played well all game except that first drive.
"We had enough points to win the game. Our mentality (on defense) has to be, 'they can't do that.' "
Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton completed 13-of-14 passes for 167 yards and two touchdowns in the fourth quarter. His 14 completions the previous three quarters combined netted only 95 yards.
Murray had his best game of the year. Kingsbury said the plays Murray made of which he was most proud were passes thrown away, and Murray was sacked a season-low one time. Here he was, starting at his own 25 with two minutes left, trying to win a game that should've already been won.
He found Johnson for a 24-yard gain on the sideline – a beautiful over-the-shoulder catch by the running back to get the Cards to the Cincinnati 43 and quiet the surprisingly loud-if-half-empty stadium.
"I knew I caught it, definitely," Johnson said. "I knew I caught it and got two feet in."
Two plays later, Murray busted up the middle for 24 more yards down to the Bengals 15 to set up Gonzalez.
"I was trying to score," Murray said. "Unfortunately, I didn't get to. It just kind of opened up."
That left it to Gonzalez, who missed his first field goal try of the day but converted four others.
"I'm thinking, 'Make the kick, win the game,' " Gonzalez said. "After my earlier miss, which really upset me, the team really supported me. It's the way the game goes. I'm just glad I could help out."
The Cardinals host a struggling Falcons team next week, but the emotions have changed. A win is a win, and that impacts everything – at least until the next game.
"We'll be back at it early tomorrow," Kingsbury said. "You feel excited for the players. We're finally able to celebrate."
Images from the Week 5 matchup on Sunday in Cincinnati