Running back Jeremy Hill scored two TDs Sunday night.
GLENDALE, Ariz. - Pro Bowl wide receivers A.J. Green and Larry Fitzgerald planned to trade jerseys after Sunday night's game in the wake of Green's Bengals and Fitzgerald's Cardinals trading everything else they had for 59 minutes and 59 seconds.
"We made it a game when we could have just gone in the tank and folded," Green said after the 34-31 walk-off loss to the Cards.
Cincinnati Bengals travel to Arizona to face the Cardinals in week 11 of the regular season
The post-game air hung heavy with ifs," and "buts." That will happen when you commit 10 penalties, don't give your quarterback any time and give the other quarterback too much time.
But after the Cardinals caught them at virtually the gun to win what Vinny Rey called "a heartbreaker," 34-31, the Bengals emerged from Sunday night's thriller at University of Phoenix Stadium almost emboldened by their frantic fourth quarter comeback that erased a 14-point deficit.
It was as if playing a prime-time classic had toughened them for the final six games. With another 3.5-yard effort on the ground and only two sacks of Cardinals quarterback Carson Palmer, they still almost beat one of the best teams in the game.
"This was going to be an amazing challenge to come here and win. Bottom line, you can say what you want, this team is not a slouch football team," said left tackle Andrew Whitworth. "To make it the kind of game we made it even after falling down, I think you take a lot from this game.
"It is a great learning experience, great job of staying in the game and fighting our way back against the best thing they do, pass rush and cover. To get into that kind of style and drive all the way down the field twice, it shows the grit we have. Then all we have to do is go back and eliminate some penalties, make some stops and we have a chance to win the game."
But there was still a loss to take away from it. The Bengals got home an hour before dawn with as many questions as answers. Palmer had just riddled a riddled secondary suddenly fraught with injury for 57 yards in 38 seconds to get the winning field goal and their offensive line allowed the Cardinals pass rush to dictate the game.
It looks like cornerback Darqueze Dennard (shoulder) could be out for the year when he got hurt in his first NFL start for the injured Adam Jones (foot). Nickel safety Shawn Williams (ankle) didn't return, either. They ended the game with rookie cornerback Josh Shaw playing nickel with slot corner Leon Hall moving outside with Dre Kirkpatrick.
But maybe, just maybe, the Bengals answered the biggest question of all. They know they're 8-2 and just went 15 rounds with one of the NFC's two best teams in a duel of heavyweights.
"We're better than these guys. I feel like we should have beaten them," Kirkpatrick said. "It was a lack of execution. We didn't make enough plays, they did and the end result was taking a loss . . . They're a great team, but I feel like we had them."
That's how it went Sunday. Inches from greatness.
Just ask Bengals wide receiver A.J. Green, who had the winning touchdown and incredible catch in his grasp with 68 seconds left but hit the pylon with his foot as he juggled it into his body after making a great reaction grab when quarterback Andy Dalton's pass bounce off the shoulder pads of backup cornerback Jason Bethel.
Just ask Dalton, who left wishing he'd thrown a better ball in front of Green instead of the back shoulder, since Green had a step on Bethel down the right sideline. Dalton managed to throw for 315 yards and two TDs despite getting hammered and chased all night.
Just ask cornerback Kirkpatrick, who had Cardinals wide receiver J.J. Nelson in his sights but let him get inside him as Palmer began the three-pass microwave with a 19-yarder. Here was Nelson, a rookie who had three catches for 70 yards coming in who lit up the banged up secondary for 142 yards.
"We didn't finish. That is pretty much the bottom line and the headline, we didn't finish," Kirkpatrick said. "We have to do a better job of finishing games. We are going to learn. I feel like there was a lot of stuff out there that we can take from, different situations we can learn from and I feel like we are going to continue to do well. It is a bump in the road but I feel like we are going to overcome it."
For the second straight game running back Giovani Bernard was his offense's best player. The Cardinals linebackers couldn't come near him in coverage and a career-high eight catches for 128 yards reflected the mismatch. One screen pass went for 41 yards straight through a blitz to set up the go-ahead touchdown at halftime.
"Hue (Jackson) made an unbelievable call at that point and they had a blitz dialed up," said Dalton of his offensive coordinator. "It was the perfect play in what they called. That was big on Hue's part to get that one going. We executed it really well and gave it a chance to go down there and score."
Bernard almost won the game right after the two-minute warning with a 30-yard romp through the middle on middle linebacker Kevin Minter that only ended in a last, desperate tackle.
"It was a good matchup and Andy found me," Bernard said. "At the end of the day, we didn't win so it doesn't matter too much."
That's how close Sunday night was. Inches from greatness and seconds from euphoria. There were those that thought Bernard should have been handed the ball on third-and-two from the Cards 25 with 1:14 left and the Bengals trailing, 31-28. Even if it didn't convert, it would milk the clock and pretty much guarantee overtime because Palmer had no timeouts left.
"Yeah, you can think of it that way, or you're trying to win the game," Dalton said. "There are two ways of thinking of it. Yeah, you don't want to leave time on the clock, but you also want to try and win and we had a chance. It was close.
"We had the look that we wanted and we went for it. I could have thrown a better ball and it could've helped us win the game."
Whether Dalton checked out of a run when he saw Green matched on Bethel is up for debate, but what we do know is he ran the zone read, pulled it out of Bernard's belly, and unloaded it quickly to Green with a defender closing in. As Dalton said, he was "short,' with it on an underthrow. And what we do know is that Pro Bowl cornerback Patrick Peterson, who had followed Green throughout the game and helped hold him to four catches for 79 yards, was on the bench with an ankle injury and the Cards had nobody to cover Green.
"Andy is going to get us in the play that he feels best versus the defense and he took the one-on-one shot to A,J. and we just didn't get our feet in," said head coach Marvin Lewis. "We've got to get the ball in where we can make an uncontested catch and I guess AJ stepped on the pylon."
This close. On the game's first series, Hall ran a seam route as well as Fitzgerald and picked it off. With 34 seconds left in the game, Fitzgerald ran the same route and this time Palmer threw it before Fitzgerald turned around and Hall was this late for the 20-yarder that put them in field-goal range.
"It was just about going down and getting a field goal. I'm thinking about how we can get the ball to our guy, number 11 (Fitzgerald), without forcing it," Palmer said. "The coverage dictated the ball go his way and he made the play."
The Bengals' vaunted pass rush didn't get close on Palmer's last three throws.
"Their one minute was better than our one minute,' said left end Carlos Dunlap.
Palmer may have had a lot to say this week about how his eight seasons in Cincinnati ended, but he still has respect for the defense even after slicing and dicing the last minute.
"It wasn't easy. That's a great defense. The defense has been playing great for a long time there," Palmer said. "There's a lot of continuity with those guys, a great coordinator, a great pass rush, they're really great on the back end and their linebackers are physical, so it wasn't easy. We made the plays we had to."
So close. One Monday headline read, "Palmer's revenge.' But it easily could have been, "Dalton's prime-time redemption."
It seemed like Palmer was looking for only one guy after the game.
"He just told me, 'Good player, good luck.' The same thing everybody says," Dalton said.
"Great player. He just made plays," Palmer said. "To go down and score and get the field goal, he's been a great player since he's been there."
"We kept our poise," Green said. "We put ourselves in position to win, but they were the better team."
By that much.