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Picking over remains

Updated: 6:05 p.m.

After the Bengals saw their once-vaunted offense fail four times in the fourth quarter to generate a tying touchdown in Sunday's messy, miserable 35-27 loss to the Cardinals at Paul Brown Stadium, their 3-7 record spoke more of a top 10 draft pick than a playoff spot.

"We probably need help (to reach postseason)," said head coach Marvin Lewis after 11 penalties, five turnovers and a career-first four interceptions from quarterback Carson Palmer buried the Bengals in a home game they should have had against a so-so 5-5 NFC team.

"I would imagine we need some help from other people," Lewis said. "We're not in control of our destiny."

The Bengals weren't in control of anything on a day their two best players accounted for five turnovers, their first five-turnover game since Dec. 7, 2003 in a 31-13 loss at Baltimore.

"It will be tough to forget this one. Any time you throw a pick, it's frustrating," Palmer said. "When you throw four and don't give your team a chance to win, it just feels horrible.

"I feel like I let our team down. Our coaches, the organization, and our fans. Anytime you throw four interceptions and give your opponent 14 points, it's going to be almost impossible to win."

And wide receiver T.J. Houshmandzadeh wondered, "You can look at us and see we're a good example of that. Talent alone doesn't win games. Or maybe we don't have as much talent as people think we do."

Three of Palmer's interceptions went to nickel back Antrel Rolle and two were returned for touchdowns for only the third game in Bengals history. Pro Bowl receiver Chad Johnson committed the fifth turnover, a killing fumble on the Arizona 9 early in the second half.

Rolle, the underachieving eighth pick in the 2005 draft, the corner selected behind Pacman Jones, came into the day with just two career interceptions.

This is the kind of game it was and year it has been:

  • Cardinals quarterback Kurt Warner completed a 22-yard left-handed pass under duress one play after he sidearmed out of a sack and for a completion.

"Guys really got after him up front and blitzes got home," said defensive tackle John Thornton. "Whatever prayer he had before the game definitely was answered."

Left guard Andrew Whitworth was called for two holding calls and then he said he was called "lousy" by the back judge when he questioned them.

"Whether it was holding or not didn't bother me," said Whitworth of Tony Steratore. "I thought it was unprofessional of a referee to do that."

Houshmandzadeh, the club's most reliable receiver, had to leave the game with what looked to be a hip pointer on Cincinnati's next-to-last drive and he was hopeful but cautious he could be back for the Titans next Sunday and all signs are he'll be OK.

"They did a good job of mixing up coverages," said Houshmandzadeh, who had eight more catches for 87 yards. "They took chances when they had to take chances And when they took chances they were right. It's kind of a microcosm of our season."

With the Bengals revived by their first blocked punt for a touchdown in 18 years that cut the lead to one, Palmer uncorked his second interception of the day for a touchdown that ballooned Arizona's lead back to 35-27 heading into the fourth quarter before a surly crowd of 65,403.

Then with 33 seconds left, Palmer threw his last one to Rolle, saying basically that when he tried to throw it to the 5-8 Antonio Chatman playing for the 6-1 Houshmandzadeh, Rolle came out of position "and was playing middle safety."

But it was the third one that was the killer. Like his previous two picks, Palmer threw it into a crowd with no Bengal around (this one was intended for Chad Johnson) and Rolle repeated his first quarter touchdown when he went 54 yards untouched with 25 seconds left in the third quarter.

Palmer kept chucking. He drove the Bengals inside the Cardinals 40, but with the clock ticking under nine minutes left in the game, wide-open wide receiver Chris Henry dropped a first down at the Arizona 30 on fourth-and-six.

But the Bengals got the ball back with 6:09 left when Robert Geathers blitzed from the linebacker spot on third-and-long and got his second sack of the day, splitting it with Bryan Robinson.

Palmer got a first down on third-and-one when he hit Houshmandzadeh for an 11-yard gain, but Houshmandzadeh left the game quickly with a hip injury and his absence glaring.

Whitworth got his second holding call of the game, Henry had another drop at the Arizona 20 on the sideline, Chatman got blown up over the middle on third down and Calvin Pace working on right guard Bobbie Williams knocked down Palmer's fourth-down pass with 2:58 left.

But Palmer got the ball back when the defense delivered another three-and-out at the Bengals 32 with 1:56 left in the game.

A reaching catch by Chatman accounted for 13 yards and a dump pass to Kenny Watson accounted for six more. Then Palmer went to Chad Johnson for 10 more on the sidelines. But on the next snap center Eric Ghiaciuc was called for a holding (the Bengals' 11th penalty and most in a game this season) and it was on the first-and-20 from the Arizona with 33 seconds left that Palmer threw that final pick.

Palmer finished 37-of-52 for 329 yards, tying his record for attempts and career-high in completions.

But the game looked to change on the blocked punt.

Backup running back DeDe Dorsey, reprising his college days of nine blocked kicks, blew off the edge, took it off the foot of Mike Barr, and picked it up off the ground for a 19-yard touchdown return that cut the Cardinals lead to 28-27 with 3:29 left in the third quarter.

It was the Bengals' first blocked punt in the 75 games of the Marvin Lewis administration and their first one for a touchdown since Barney Bussey fell on an Eric Thomas block in the end zone in 1989.

And it was the first punt block of any kind in 12 years and six days, or since Darryl Williams did it against a team that no longer exists (the Oilers) in a building that now houses livestock shows (The Astrodome).

The punt was set up by a defensive stop on third-and-one, when cornerback Leon Hall and strong safety Dexter Jackson combined to tip away a pass headed to wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald.

Turnovers costly

How badly did Cincinnati need it?

The Bengals watched their two best players self-destruct in the first six minutes of the second half as they fell behind the Cardinals, 28-13.

With the Bengals desperately trying to get back into the game on their third trip into the red zone with 8:28 left in the third quarter, wide receiver Chad Johnson caught a pass at the line of scrimmage and during a run of four yards failed to secure the ball. The ball flew out to the sideline and it was recovered by free safety Terrence Holt at the Cards 9, making the Bengals 1-for-3 for touchdowns in the red zone on the day.

On the first series of the second half, Palmer inexplicably threw into a crowd of Cards in the middle of the field and linebacker Karlos Dansy emerged with his third pick in two games and the 28-yard return gave Arizona the ball on the Bengals 24. It was Palmer's second curious throw of the day and second that resulted in a touchdown. Moments later running back Edgerrin James bucked over from three yards out to make it 28-13 just two minutes into the second half.

Palmer, frustrated by a suffocating Arizona zone that hadn't allowed a pass longer than 19 yards, finally hooked up with Henry for a 37-yard touchdown pass that cut it to 28-20 with 5:02 left in the third quarter. Henry, working one-on-one against cornerback Eric Green, got behind Green and made the catch in the end zone even as Green was called for interference as he grabbed Henry around the waist as he caught the ball.

The Bengals gave up another bad touchdown at the end of the first half in falling behind, 21-13 , when they let the Cardinals go 85 yards in the final 4:28 on a drive Fitzgerald (93 yards on eight balls) dominated and finished with a five-yard touchdown catch in the back of the end zone with 13 seconds left.

The Bengals got booed off the field after Fitzgerald got behind cornerback Deltha O'Neal and Jackson for the 22nd scoring pass of the season against the Bengals as Warner looked more like Fran Tarkenton than a washed-up Super Bowl MVP.

He hooked up on a 19-yard pass to Fitzgerald to open the drive, and then on a third-and-one with Geathers a hair away from blowing him up out of the pocket, Warner lofted a 20-yarder down the sideline as Fitzgerald broke back to the ball in front of O'Neal.

Then with defensive lineman Jonathan Fanene cutting his legs, Warner fired a sidearm pass falling down to running back J.J. Arrington that put the Cards on the brink of the red zone.

When Robinson wrapped up Warner's legs, Warner moved the ball to his left hand and flipped a ball over the head of James. But tight end Leonard Pope, running across the middle, plucked the ball out of the air for a 22-yard gain that set up the touchdown.

"They made an effort to stop the run game today, and they opened themselves up to some things in the pass game," said Cards head coach Ken Whisenhunt. "They came after us. (Warner) did that last week too. Kurt is feeling more comfortable in the pocket, and with what we are doing. He made some good plays for us, especially in the first half when we were having some success and we were moving the ball. That was critical."

Bengals grab early lead

The Bengals moved the ball but their numbing inability to finish off drives with fundamental mistakes carried the day. Palmer hit 17 of 22 passes for 130 yards in the first half, but his first interception for a touchdown was the difference at the half.

The Bengals receivers did get in the first word in this showdown of top NFL receivers when Houshmandzadeh caught a 19-yard touchdown to give the Bengals a 7-0 lead over the Cardinals less than five minutes into the game.

But Palmer went to the proverbial well once too often. On the next series he tried to jam it into double coverage to Houshmandzadeh and Rolle stepped in front for the interception and turned it into a zig-zag 55-yard touchdown that tied the game at 7 late in the first quarter. Palmer tried to make the last tackle with his shoulder at the 1, but Rolle stepped through him.

"He jumped the route. T.J. is always open on that play," Palmer said.

Rolle: "We know that Houshmandzadeh has been their No. 1 go-to guy. He has caught a lot of passes. My defensive back coach was telling me to bait him. When he sat down on his route, I had a gut feeling the ball was coming to him."

But the Bengals moved it and still needed kicker Shayne Graham to hit his 20th and 21st straight field goals to cut the Cards lead to 14-13 with 4:24 left in the first half. They extended his team record and were his eighth and ninth field goals in the last six quarters.

Houshmandzadeh got behind cornerback Rod Hood on a corner route, one play after Palmer hooked up on a nine-yard throw to Henry on third and-seven. The Bengals picked up the blitz and Henry, working against soft coverage from Green, came back to make a diving catch.

It was Cincinnati's first touchdown since Jeremi Johnson's one-yard catch in Buffalo two weeks ago in the third quarter and Houshmandzadeh's 11th of the season.

The Bengals had a huge first series on defense, a three-and-out highlighted by Geathers' first sack since the opener. Arizona doesn't give up many of those. The Cards came into Sunday ranked third in allowing sacks per pass.

On Cincinnati's second series the Bengals got a big play from Fanene, who tipped away Warner's third-and-11 pass from the Bengals 36 one play after a broken play resulted in free safety Madieu Williams' sack. That brought on old friend Neil Rackers and for the seventh time this season the Cards called on him to kick a 50-plus field goal. For the fourth time he missed when his 54-yarder went wide left.

The Bengals struggled with game management issues. They took their second timeout 47 seconds into the second quarter. They sent in their short-yardage team on what looked to be a third-and-short, but they were given the first down and the Bengals opted to change personnel groups.

That was the highlight of the drive. Whitworth was called for a hold when the Bengals reached the Cards 23 and a dropped third-down pass by Kenny Watson forced Graham to kick for the 10-7 lead.

Whitworth left with an injury and was replaced by Scott Kooistra but came back to start the second half.

Lack of execution followed the Bengals to the next defensive series when Geathers was called for coming across the line too early on third-and-five and Warner responded by finding Fitzgerald, the NFC receiving leader, at the Bengals 44.

Fitzgerald appeared to push off on cornerback Leon Hall on the sidelines on the play but then coverage really blew up on the next snap. With Joseph blitzing, wide receiver Anquan Boldin screeched down the field easily beating Jackson for a 44-yard touchdown play that gave Arizona a 14-10 lead five minutes into the second quarter.

But Houshmandzadeh (five catches for 57 yards in the half) responded with an 18-yard catch, 17 seemingly coming after he caught a quick slant, and Chad Johnson grabbed his second catch of the day for 15 yards over the middle to put the Bengals at the Arizona.

Johnson (eight for 86 yards) moved early for a five-yard penalty when the Bengals reached the 18 and tight end Daniel Coats dropped a pass, forcing Graham to come on again for the 38-yarder that made it 14-13.

There was still no semblance of a running game for Cincinnati with Rudi Johnson getting 16 yards on six carries in the half, 25 on eight for the game. Watson was nine for 45, but the club was below a 4-yard average again at 3.6 on 72 with 20 carries.

Warner was 12-of-16 for 175 yards in the half and 16-of-28 for 211 at the end.

Bengals wide receiver Glenn Holt took a shot to the head on the second half's opening kickoff and he didn't return with a concussion.

PREGAME NOTES: Rookie Leon Hall, looking for an interception in his third straight game, got his second straight start at cornerback in place of Deltha O'Neal on Sunday at Paul Brown Stadium against Arizona.

The Cardinals made a major change in their secondary when they deactivated their best defensive player, Pro Bowl strong safety Adrian Wilson, out with a heel injury. But they did start Eric Green at cornerback after he suffered a mild ankle sprain in Thursday's practice.

All three Bengals corners should see plenty of action against Arizona's feared three receivers. Hall, who leads all NFL rookies with four interceptions, prepared for a formidable challenge in the slot on passing downs from Anquan Boldin, a receiver known for his strength and runs after the catch.

The Bengals' emphasis in shutting down quarterback Kurt Warner and that stable of receivers may have been reflected in head coach Marvin Lewis' decision to introduce the defensive starters as a group during pregame introductions. It's also a week after the defense's best outing of the season, a 58-minute shutout of the Ravens in a 21-7 victory.

Defensive end Frostee Rucker was a surprise on the Bengals inactive list after last week's outing in Baltimore in which he had four tackles and a forced fumble in seven snaps. The return of defensive tackle John Thornton took up one spot after he missed the previous two games with a neck stinger.

After a limited practice Friday, right tackle Willie Anderson was also inactive.

Other Bengals inactives: wide receiver Marcus Maxwell, cornerback David Jones, center Dan Santucci, tight end Nate Lawrie, and linebacker Roy Manning, just signed on Tuesday.

Wilson's absence meshes with the Bengals' fervent desire to run the ball after two games they have barely rushed for two yards per carry. Wilson, also a feared blitzer, made his name as a strong in-the-box player. His replacement, fourth-year player Oliver Celestin, made his first NFL start Sunday.

During the pregame the Bengals offered a tribute to Reds legend Joe Nuxhall on the scoreboard with the words "The Ol' Lefthander" next to two pictures of a very young lefthander, the youngest man to ever play in the big leagues.

The Bengals came out in their black jerseys and white pants, a combo in which they are 7-10.

Lewis' game captains were wide receiver T.J. Houshmandzadeh for the offense and strong safety Dexter Jackson for the defense.

At some point the Bengals would have to face old friend Neil Rackers, their former kicker who came into Sunday leading the NFL in touchbacks. But it wasn't on the opening kickoff since the Cards won the toss.

The Bengals had a huge first series on defense, a three-and-out highlighted by linebacker Robert Geathers' first sack since the opener.

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