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Bengals beat Cardinals 23-16, stay in contention

CINCINNATI (AP) The stadium was only two-thirds full again. The
Cardinals were on another one of their incredible comebacks,
threatening to derail the Cincinnati Bengals’ surprising playoff surge.

A pair of tangled up feet made the difference.

The Bengals moved one win away from the playoffs Saturday, holding on
for a 23-16 victory over Arizona that secured only their third winning
record in the past 21 years.

Cincinnati (9-6) can clinch the final AFC wild card berth by beating
Baltimore at Paul Brown Stadium next Sunday. The Bengals moved a
game ahead of the Jets, who fell to 8-7 with a 29-14 loss to the Giants
on Saturday.

“It’s been a big year for me and for this team,” rookie quarterback Andy
Dalton said. “It’s something we believed we had a chance to do. We
weren’t getting much credit from outside. We’ll find out next week.”

Dalton threw two more touchdown passes, becoming only the fourth
rookie to have 20 in a season, and Cincinnati got a break when the NFL’s
top comeback team tripped itself up in the closing minutes.

Wide-open receiver Early Doucet tripped at the goal line and went down,
letting a fourth-down pass fall incomplete with 1:12 left. The Cardinals
(7-8) got the ball one more time, but the clock ran out after a
completion.

A few minutes later, the Jets’ loss put the Bengals in position to reach the
playoffs. New York would have won the tiebreaker if both teams won out.

“We started this quite a while ago – seems like just yesterday,” coach
Marvin Lewis said. “But now we’re right where we want to be at the end.”

Their rookie quarterback put them in position.

Dalton threw an 11-yard touchdown pass to Jermaine Gresham and a
19-yarder to Jerome Simpson, who did a somersault over a defender and
landed on both feet in the end zone.

Dalton joined Peyton Manning (26), Charlie Conerly (22) and Dan Marino
(20) as the only NFL rookies to throw 20 touchdown passes.

Down 23-0 heading into the fourth quarter, the NFL’s best comeback
team nearly pulled off its most improbable one yet. Arizona took
advantage of Cedric Benson’s two fumbles, getting a pair of touchdown
passes by John Skelton and Jay Feely’s field goal with 3:16 left.

The Cardinals then had their chance to pull even. The Bengals ran an all-
out blitz on fourth down from the Cincinnati 17-yard line, and Doucet
wound up uncovered at the goal line. Skelton lofted the ball into the end
zone, but Doucet tripped and fell.

“It was a blitz and nobody was there,” Doucet said. “It was one of those
deals where I hadn’t hooked it up and my feet got tangled. It’s a play I
should’ve made. It was my fault. That’s a play I normally make.”

The Cardinals had their four-game winning streak snapped and were
eliminated from playoff contention.

Cincinnati’s defense dominated the first three quarters. Arizona didn’t
cross midfield until Skelton completed a pass with 13:25 to go, but piled
up 208 yards in the final quarter.

Skelton started for the second consecutive week in place of Kevin Kolb,
who hasn’t fully recovered from a concussion. Skelton was 23 of 44 for
297 yards with three interceptions and five sacks that helped the Bengals
get the 23-0 lead.

It could have been worse. Mike Nugent, the NFL’s most accurate kicker,
missed field goals of 35 and 48 yards in the first half.

Arizona has rallied from fourth-quarter deficits six times this season,
one shy of the NFL record. The Cardinals have won three games in
overtime, tying the league record.

They couldn’t do it one more time.

“Yeah, we’re a second-half team,” Skelton said. “That’s how it has been
all year. But in the end, it was too little, too late.”

Dalton was 18 of 31 for 154 yards and two touchdowns on a sunny, 39-
degree afternoon in front of only 41,273 fans. The Bengals have sold out
only one of their seven home games, when the Steelers brought
thousands of fans.

Dalton’s second touchdown pass had a highlight finish.

Simpson got open for a catch-and-run to the goal line. With Daryl
Washington between him and the end zone, Simpson jumped and twirled
past the linebacker, landing on both feet in the end zone and raising
both arms like a triumphant gymnast.

“One of the key parts for me was I stuck the landing,” Simpson said. “I
stuck the landing like a gymnast. That was probably one of the most
surprising of all the plays in my career. It was pretty awesome, I
thought.”

For most of the game, the Cardinals couldn’t do anything right. Rookie
cornerback Patrick Peterson picked off a Dalton pass in the third quarter,
but the interception was nullified by Arizona’s second roughing-the-
passer penalty of the game.

Worse, Peterson hurt his left hamstring on the play, pulling up on the
return. The first-round pick left the game and didn’t return. He wore a
protective boot after the game.

“He’s got a strain, it’s not a tear,” coach Ken Whisenhunt said. “We’re
fortunate that it doesn’t appear to anything long term.”

Notes: Beanie Wells became the first Cardinal to run for 1,000 yards and
10 touchdowns in a season. … After the game, the Bengals made a buy-
one, get-one-free offer to season ticket holders, trying to fill the
stadium for the final game. … A.J. Green, playing with a strained right
shoulder, had two catches for 25 yards. He passed Cris Collinsworth’s
club record for a rookie with 1,013 yards on the season.