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Cardinals’ game-winning drive ‘wasn’t easy’ even though it looked that way

Arizona Cardinals quarterback Carson Palmer (3) leaves the field after an NFL football game against the Cincinnati Bengals, Sunday, Nov. 22, 2015, in Glendale, Ariz. The Cardinals won 34-31. (AP Photo/Rick Scuteri)

GLENDALE, Ariz. — Fifty-eight seconds. No timeouts. About 50 yards away from field goal range.

That was the scenario facing the Arizona Cardinals Sunday night after Cincinnati’s Mike Nugent kicked a 43-yard field goal to tie the contest at 31-31.

Some teams would play for overtime, especially at home. The Cardinals, coached by the ever-bold Bruce Arians, don’t think that way.

“Go down and get a field goal,” quarterback Carson Palmer said when asked what was going through his mind as he took the field. “We’re not the type to run it out and play for overtime. That comes from the head coach. He’s got that ‘go-for-it’ type of mentality.”

And so, the Cardinals went for it.

On first down, Palmer hit rookie J.J. Nelson for 19 yards up to the Arizona 35-yard line. The Cardinals hustled to the line and then Palmer hit Larry Fitzgerald for 18 yards into Bengals’ territory. On the next play, that same veteran duo hooked up again on a 20-yard play that pushed the Cardinals well into Chandler Catanzaro’s field goal range at the Bengals’ 27-yard line.

After a spike on first down and a kneel down on the next play, Palmer brought the Cardinals to the line in hopes of spiking the ball again. However, it appeared right guard Ted Larsen jumped early, which with under ten seconds left, would have been a false start. In that scenario, a 10-second run-off would have sent the game to overtime.

However, Cincinnati defensive tackle Domata Peko was called for unsportsmanlike conduct for calling out a false snap count. The penalty moved Arizona up to the 14-yard line, where Catanzaro calmly booted a 32-yard field goal to give the Cardinals a 34-31 win.

The drive itself — 70 yards over six plays — looked rather easy, considering the circumstances.

“It wasn’t easy,” Palmer said. “That’s a great defense. That defense has been playing great for a long time over there. A lot of continuity with those guys, a great coordinator, a great pass rush, they’re really great on the back end, their linebackers are physical, downhill players. It wasn’t easy, but we made the plays we had to.”

Actually, the whole second half looked easy for Palmer. After struggling and throwing two interceptions in the first half, the veteran completed 13-of-19 passes for 236 yards and three scores after the break. The drive in the last minute was just an extension of a masterful half by a player who is increasing his MVP candidacy each week.

“There was never a doubt that we wouldn’t go two minutes at the end because I trust our guys and I trust our quarterbacks and receivers to make plays, and we made the plays necessary to win the game,” Arians said.

Somewhat surprising was the fact that the Cardinals got the ball with so much time remaining. Arizona had burned their final timeout challenging what they thought was a fumble on a kickoff return by Cincinnati’s Brandon Tate with 6:18 left. They lost the challenge.

Cincinnati had taken over at their own 16-yard line after a Drew Butler punt with 2:45 remaining in the fourth quarter. Despite holding the ball for eight plays and gaining 59 yards, the Bengals only took 1:42 off the clock, giving Palmer the requisite amount of time to effectively beat them.

“They didn’t have any timeouts, so all we had to do is just make the stops,” Cincinnati safety Reggie Nelson said when asked if the Bengals left too much time on the clock. “(Defensive coordinator Paul Guenther) put us in a position to make great plays, we just have to execute the defense.”

The win pushes the Cardinals’ record to 8-2 heading into consecutive divisional road gams at San Francisco and St. Louis over the next two weeks.

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