GLENDALE, Ariz. - Bengals nose tackle Domata Peko, his teammates, and head coach were mystified by the final call of the 34-31 loss to the Cardinals when the officials gave Peko an unsportsman-like conduct penalty for simulating Cardinals quarterback Carson Palmer's snap count.
Peko thought the Cards were offsides with 20 seconds left at the Bengals 27, which may have ended regulation with a runoff of the clock. But instead of OT or a 47-yard field goal, it was a 32-yard chip shot to win it.
"They were lining up quick and they jumped," Peko said. "I'm a big communicator on the defensive line. I was just saying, 'Get set, get set.' They were on the ball quick and I guess they thought I said, 'Hike,' but I didn't. It shouldn't have come down to that play."
Head coach Marvin Lewis said he believed his player and was surprised the call was made, calling it "a phantom play." Cards right guard Ted Larson said Peko had been doing it all game.
"I trust what our player did and said. He's alerting a run and not anything to do with what they're saying," Lewis said. "I don't see how they make that call at that point in the game like that. I trust our guy to be honest with me."
There's a fear cornerback Darqueze Dennard may be lost for the season with a shoulder injury . . .
With 1:14 left and the Bengals on the Arizona 25 with two timeouts left and trailing, 31-28, Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton went for the whole ball of wax when he had the matchup he wanted. With Pro Bowl cornerback Patrick Peterson on the sideline with an ankle injury, his own Pro Bowler, A.J. Green, was matched with backup cornerback Justin Bethel. Green had a step on him, but as Dalton said, "I threw it short." Yet Bethel batted the ball and Green nabbed it, but the officials said he stepped on the pylon and the Bengals settled for Mike Nugent's tying 43-yard field goal with 63 seconds left.
"I thought I had it," Green said.
"There's two ways to look at it," Dalton said. "Yeah, you don't want to leave too much time, but you also want to win. We had the look we wanted. I could have thrown a better ball, that would have helped us."
Dalton threw enough good balls to win even though he had very little time all night from the Cards' ferocious pass rush. In the end, it was a remarkable comeback that fell just shy after coming back from 14 down in the fourth quarter. Linebacker Vincent Rey called it a "heartbreaker."
"They brought a lot of people. I thought I was pass blocking with people whizzing by my ears," said left tackle Andrew Whitworth. "To make it the kind of game we did even after we fell down, we can take a lot from this game. Great job fighting back and staying in the game in here at night on the road on a short week." . . .
The Bengals knew what Carson Palmer could do with the ball on his own 16 and 58 seconds left in a 31-31 game. After all, he had 27 game-winning drives at that point and 17 of them were with Cincinnati.
He was also looking at a Bengals secondary that didn't have two of its top four cornerbacks because Adam Jones was inactive and Dennard suffered what is feared to be his season-ending shoulder injury in the third quarter. That moved veteran slot corner Leon Hall outside and put rookie Josh Shaw in the slot.
So Palmer went 19 yards to rookie wide receiver J.J. Nelson and then the final two throws to the Hall-of-Famer Larry Fitzgerald roaming the middle for 18 and 20 yards. In 38 seconds the Cards were on the Bengals 27 and it was basically over.
"Put it on the D today," said cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick, who was on Nelson on the first play. "He made good reads and the guys made good catches. I feel like we were in the right defense. They made the play and we didn't. It was a certain type of defense so I was off (Nelson)."
There were a lot of what ifs in the locker room. It was fitting the game ended on the Peko penalty because six days after committing a season-high nine penalties, they committed 10 Sunday night.
"We're better than these guys I feel like we should have beat 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 today . . . They're a great team, but I feel like we had them." ...
It was their first back-to-back loss since Nov. 10, 2013. They haven't lost three in a row since Oct. 14-Nov. 4, 2012, and the last time they lost two straight at home was Oct. 21-Nov 4,2012 . . .
Reggie Nelson had his team-high fifth interception, making him the seventh player to have 20 picks as a Bengal. Hall had his first interception of the season, putting him into a tie for fourth on the club's all-time list with Lemar Parrish. Nelson is one behind Tory James' 21 in sixth place.
Cincinnati Bengals travel to Arizona to face the Cardinals in week 11 of the regular season