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Big Red Recap: Cardinals execute down the stretch to beat Bengals

For a team that once upon a time wasn’t quite ready for primetime, the Arizona Cardinals are certainly excelling under the national spotlight this season.

With a 34-31 victory over the Cincinnati Bengals at University of Phoenix Stadium, the Cardinals improved to 3-0 with the nation watching, winning on Sunday Night Football in consecutive weeks.

They beat Seattle a week ago and earlier in the season defeated Baltimore on Monday Night Football.

The difference in the game was a 32-yard field goal kicked by Chandler Catanzaro with one second remaining.

Carson Palmer overcame two first-quarter interceptions to pass for 317 yards and four touchdowns against the NFL’s number-one scoring defense; and oh yeah, his former team.

His favorite target was rookie J.J. Nelson.

Inactive last week, Nelson caught four balls for a season-best 142 yards and a touchdown.

Larry Fitzgerald added eight catches for 90 yards, while Chris Johnson rushed for a team-best 63 yards on 18 carries as the Cardinals outgained the Bengals, 383-377.

Andy Dalton accounted for 315 of those yards for Cincinnati (8-2). He was 22-of-39 with two touchdowns.

After the Bengals had tied the game at 31, the Cardinals, with 58 seconds left and no timeouts, marched 70 yards on six plays to put Catanzaro in position for the game-winning kick.

The Cardinals (8-2) have won four straight and maintained their three-game lead in the NFC West.

The Cardinals became only the fourth team to win back-to-back games on NBC’s Sunday Night Football, joining New England (2007), Washington (2007) and Philadelphia (2013).

Arizona has at least one more primetime matchup; it’s against Minnesota on Thursday Night Football in Week 14.

THE GOOD

– On the game’s first play, Fitzgerald caught a 12-yard pass to extend his franchise record of at least one reception to 173 straight games, the league’s longest active streak. Two plays later, Fitzgerald caught a 10-yard pass, pushing him past 13,000 receiving yards for his career. He became the third-youngest player (32 years, 83 days) in NFL history to reach the mark behind Randy Moss (31 years, 298 days) and Jerry Rice (32 years, 59 days).

– Third-and-8 converted, third down-and-16 converted and third down-and-1 converted. The final of those was a was an 18-yard touchdown pass from Palmer to Darren Fells that tied the game at 7 with 9:44 left in the second quarter. Palmer was 4-of-4 for 54 yards on the drive, moving him past David Krieg (38,147) for 18th place on the NFL’s all-time passing yardage list. The score by Fells was his third of the season, tying him with John Brown for third-most on the team.

– Give Palmer a clean pocket and time to throw, and he’ll make you pay. Palmer and Nelson connected on a 64-yard game-tying touchdown to tie the game at 14 apiece on the Cardinals’ first possession of the second half. The score at 11:21 of the third quarter was Nelson’s first career touchdown and the 14th different Cardinals player to find the end zone this season. On the play prior, John Brown caught a 13-yard pass to convert a third down-and-7 at the Arizona 23.

– Through the first two quarters, the Cardinals gained a grand total of 102 yards. They surpassed that mark with their second possession of the third quarter with a balanced eight-play—four runs, four passes—66-yard drive that ended with Brown catching an 18-yard touchdown to give the Cardinals their first lead, 21-14, at the 5:32 mark. In just two drives to open the second half, the Cardinals not only scored twice but gained 146 yards.

– Call it a perfect third quarter for the Cardinals, who scored on each of their three possessions. David Johnson was the third different receiver to catch a Palmer touchdown in the period. He beat former ASU Sun Devil Vontaze Burfict on a wheel route and ran 16 yards into the end zone to give the Cardinals a 28-14 lead at the 11:26 mark. In the quarter, Palmer recorded more touchdowns (three) than incompletions (two) as he went 9-of-11 for 171 yards.

THE BAD

– Just two plays into the game, starting left guard Mike Iupati exited the game. Earl Watford entered and soon after gave up a sack after being beaten by Geno Atkins. The play lost 10 yards, and on third-and-20, Palmer was picked off by Leon Hall on a pass intended for Fitzgerald. It was Palmer’s eighth interception of the season. Iupati suffered a stinger—the same injury he sustained last week at Seattle—but returned three possessions later.

– After a three-and-out on their second possession, the Cardinals third drive lasted all of one play. Palmer went deep looking for Nelson but the ball was a good 10-15 yards overthrown (miscommunication?) and intercepted by Reggie Nelson. The Bengals capitalized with a six-play, 64-yard scoring drive that ended with Tyler Eifert catching a 3-yard touchdown on third-and-goal. The play gave Cincinnati a 7-0 lead at :22 of the first quarter.

– A costly Cardinals penalty allowed Cincinnati to take a 14-7 lead into halftime. With the Bengals facing a third-and-19 at their own 27, Kevin Minter was flagged for defensive holding, which is an automatic first down. Nine plays later, Jeremy Hill rushed for two yards a touchdown, capping a 14-play, 80-yard drive that took just over 8:30 off the clock. On the drive, the Bengals converted all three of their third downs.

– Twice in the fourth quarter, the Bengals scored red-zone touchdowns. First, Jeremy Hill rushed from a yard out; and then two possessions later, Dalton completed a 10-yard pass to Eifert. On the first scoring drive, the Bengals converted a fourth-and-4 at the Arizona 16—Mohamed Sanu 10-yard catch—to move the chains. The second scoring drive was set up by a 58-yard kickoff return by Brandon Tate allowing Cincinnati to start possession at midfield.

STAT OF THE GAME

34: The Cardinals’ final point tally, the most allowed by the Bengals this season. It was the seventh time Arizona scored more than 30 points this year.

HE SAID IT

“I’m so happy right now,” Catanzaro said, before describing his teammates’ reaction. “They went berserk. It was pretty cool. It was pretty cool. We found a way to win in the fourth quarter and that’s what we’re known for.”

NOTED

– The Cardinals, for the first time since 1975-76, begin back-to-back seasons with at least eight wins.

– The Cardinals improved to 21-5 against teams outside the division (10-2 vs. AFC) under Bruce Arians.

– Patrick Peterson exited the game midway through the fourth quarter after suffering a left ankle injury.

– Rodney Gunter’s fourth-quarter sack was the first of his NFL career and the fourth by the Cardinals defense.

– Rookie Markus Golden’s fourth-quarter strip-sack (recovered by Deone Bucannon) was his second of the season.

– Dwight Freeney’s third-quarter sack was his third of the season and No. 114.5 of his career, making him 20th all-time in that category.

– Frostee Rucker suffered a right ankle injury late in the third quarter and was later ruled out for the game.

– Undrafted rookie free agent nose tackle Xavier Williams saw his first NFL action on the second defensive series.

– The game, the 100th in the history of University of Phoenix Stadium, was played with the roof open for the first time this season.

– Among the Cardinals inactives were starting receiver Michael Floyd and starting right guard Jonathan Cooper.

UP NEXT

It’s back on the road for the Cardinals as they visit San Francisco in Week 12, the first of two straight road contests against NFC West opponents.

They play at St. Louis the following week.

The Cardinals will look to sweep the season series from the Niners for the first time since 2008 when they meet Sunday, Nov. 29. Kickoff is scheduled for 2:05 p.m. with pregame coverage beginning four hours earlier on Arizona Sports 98.7 FM.

In the first matchup, Palmer threw for 311 yards and two touchdowns, both to Fitzgerald, who caught nine passes for 134 yards. Chris Johnson rushed for 110 yards and scored twice in a 47-7 Week 3 victory in the desert.

The defense added three scores of its own with back-to-back pick-6s by Justin Bethel and Tyrann Mathieu to begin the game and a third-quarter safety from Kevin Minter, who tackled 49ers running back Carlos Hyde in the end zone.

The Cardinals led 28-0 in the second quarter and never looked back.

Though the Cardinals are just 3-10 against the Niners over the past seven seasons, they’ve won two of the last three meetings.

Overall, the Cardinals are 19-29 in a series that dates back to 1951.

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