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Week 11 Bengals vs Cardinals: Bengals fourth quarter comeback falls short in 34-31 loss to Cardinals

There are three certainties in life: Death, taxes and the Bengals losing in primetime. At least a disastrous third quarter led to an exciting fourth quarter comeback.

Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

It was a third quarter from hell.

Despite an enthusiastic defensive effort in the first quarter, Paul Guenther's unit fantastically embarrassed themselves, proving completely overmatched against a superior Arizona Cardinals' offense. Whereas Cincinnati's defense pressured Carson Palmer early in the game, causing Palmer to throw a pair of first quarter interceptions, Arizona exploded with 205 yards (195 net) in the third quarter, magically shifting a 14-7 deficit into a 28-14 lead as the game entered the fourth quarter. Additionally, the Andy Dalton-led Bengals' offense had only generated -6 yards (-1 net)  with about a minute remaining in the third.

Earth hasn't seen a meltdown like this since Fukushima.

Whereas the third quarter was a dreadful reminder of Cincinnati's primetime disasters, the fourth quarter was an image of amazing comebacks in 2015; the Bengals continue being a writer's worst nightmare. Where you eliminate them with a soul-crushing loss, Cincinnati responds. Arizona's dominating third quarter, capturing a 28-14 lead, led to Cincinnati's 11-play touchdown drive that spanned 85 yards and concluded with an enthusiastic Jeremy Hill touchdown run, his second of the game. Instead of packing their bags for a lengthy cross-country trip back to Cincinnati, the Bengals made a game of it, biting into Arizona's seven-point lead with 11:26 remaining.

Despite taking a step forward, it felt like Cincinnati kept taking steps backward.  Giovani Bernard dropped a second down throw on Cincinnati's ensuing possession and Andre Smith whiffed on a block that led to an Andy Dalton fumble/interception on Cincinnati's 10-yard line. Placekicker Chandler Catanzaro expanded Arizona's lead to 31-21 with 6:27 remaining.

Brandon Tate returned the ensuing kickoff 58 yards to midfield, where Dalton was sacked on first down. One step forward, another step back. Bernard slipped out of the backfield on second down, picking up 21 yards to the 39-yard line with over five minutes remaining. With 3:49 remaining, Cincinnati had second down from the Cardinals' 10-yard line when Dalton zipped a fastball (behind surprisingly comfortable protection) to Tyler Eifert.

Bengals, 31-28.

Following another well-timed three-and-out -- and a massive stop on third-and-one -- Cincinnati had two timeouts remaining with 2:45 remaining in the game. A 10-yard toss to Marvin Jones and an illegal hands to the face on Arizona gave Cincinnati a first down from their own 37-yard line at the two minute warning (1:58). A 30-yard pass to Bernard and an eight-yarder to Marvin Jones put Cincinnati at the 25-yard line, where Mike Nugent crushed a 43-yard field goal to tie the game at 31.

Cincinnati, facing a 28-14 deficit with 1:26 remaining in the third, outscored the Cardinals 17-3 in the fourth quarter to tie the game with 1:03 remaining in the game.

For those dreaming of a fairytale-like ending similar to Seattle and Pittsburgh, left disappointed. Carson Palmer quickly navigated Arizona's offense with completions of 21, 19, 18, and 20 before a spike, knee and a Domata Peko (calling out signals) personal foul allowed Catanzaro to convert a chip-shot 32-yard game-winning field goal.

The Bengals, who drop to 8-2 on the season, host St. Louis this Sunday at 1:00 p.m. EST.

Backing up

Arizona's game-opening possession, generating three first downs on the first six plays, abruptly ended thanks to successive performances from two former Carson Palmer teammates. Geno Atkins, sacked Palmer to force a long third-down situation, and moments later, Leon Hall easily intercepted Palmer on Cincinnati's 35-yard line. Yet, Cincinnati failed to capitalize, thanks in large part to Jeremy Hill, who was flagged for a personal foul (taunting) that mind-blowingly transferred a third-and-nine scenario into a third-and-24. Cincinnati conceded the possession with a Bernard draw.

Defensively, Cincinnati came to play and helped the Bengals stage an early lead. Following Leon Hall's interception and a forced a three-and-out on Arizona's ensuing possession, stuffing running back David Johnson on third-and-one, the Bengals forced another turnover -- though more self-inflicted by Palmer. With 3:46 remaining, Palmer significantly overthrew J.J. Nelson, allowing safety Reggie Nelson to glide under the football for an interception.

Following Dalton's beautifully-thrown 42-yard pass to A.J. Green, Cincinnati's offense nearly blew another possession with a self-inflicted wound on Andre Smith's offensive hold, nullifying Mohamed Sanu's touchdown run. However, Cincinnati rebounded on a back-shoulder threw to Tyler Eifert, giving the Bengals a 7-0 lead with 26 seconds remaining in the first. Arizona immediately responded with an 18-yard touchdown reception by tight end Darren Fells, leaving 9:44 remaining on the clock, concluding a 10-play possession (with three third down conversions, including one requiring 16 yards to convert) that began from their own 20; Cincinnati helped with a handful of penalties.

At this point, Cincinnati gloriously crushed an expiring clock... with a little help. Andre Smith was flagged for a personal foul, eventually neutralized when Arizona was flagged for a defensive hold on third down. Methodically, the Bengals moved. A.J. Green picked up 11, converting a third and eight, negating Marvin Jones' "illegal touch" penalty that itself nullified a 25-yard reception. Andy Dalton picked up Cincinnati's third third-down conversion during the drive, putting the Bengals on Arizona's 43-yard line.

Then the play of the game (of the half, of the quarter) happened. Facing a second-and-10 from the Cardinals' 43-yard line and with 1:57 remaining prior to half time, Andy Dalton shot-put the football to Giovani Bernard on a running back screen. With Andrew Whitworth leading, Bernard reached the two-yard line, where Jeremy Hill punched the football in for a touchdown to give Cincinnati a 14-7 lead.

Following Cincinnati's uninspiring opening possession in the second half (one first down gained via penalty), Arizona quickly struck with Carson Palmer's 64-yard touchdown throw to J.J. Nelson, tying the game at 14 with 11:21 remaining in the third quarter. It appeared Cincinnati played cover two with George Iloka slow in his drop to defend the pass.

Regardless, the score quickly identified drifting momentum between both squads.

THE BONIES (my make-shift nominations for bonehead plays that caused problems for the Bengals)

  • Jeremy Hill called for taunting, transferring a third-and-nine scenario into a third-and-24.
  • Dre Kirkpatrick called for a (bullshit) block in the back, nullifying Brandon Tate's 41-yard return. Instead of starting at the Cardinals' 43-yard line, the Bengals started at their own eight.
  • Andre Smith called for an offensive hold, nullifying Mohamed Sanu's touchdown run (Bengals recovered and scored a touchdown anyway).
  • George Iloka called for a late hit out of bounds, moving Arizona to their own 49-yard line (and resulting in a 12-yard reception).
  • Andre Smith called for a personal foul (leg-whip), forcing the Bengals to face a first-and-25 with 7:47 remaining in the second. It became a non-issue when Arizona was called for a defensive hold on third and 19, giving Cincinnati a fresh set of downs.
  • Domata Peko flagged for barking out calls, allowing Arizona to kick a game-winning chip-shot 32-yard field goal.