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Defending, criticizing Bengals' clock management on final offensive drive against Cardinals

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Cincinnati's play-calling and clock management on the final drive allowed Arizona to escape with a three-point win.

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The Bengals had several chances to put themselves in great position to win Sunday's game against the Cardinals, but no opportunity was greater than that of their final offensive drive in the fourth quarter.

After battling back from deficits of 14 and 10 points in the fourth quarter, the Bengals got the ball back in the final minutes down just 31-28 and having all of the momentum. Andy Dalton was red-hot and picking apart the Cardinals' defense. That continued on this final drive as he got the offense down near the red zone with less than two minutes to play.

From there, a deep pass to A.J. Green where he stepped on the pylon and was deemed out of bounds and an eight-yard completion to Marvin Jones, left the Bengals facing a 3rd-and-2 at the Arizona 25-yard line with 1:14 left to play in the game. At this point, the best and easiest decision seemed to be either a run or short pass that would have netted a first down and continued to run the clock while also keeping the possibility of a touchdown alive.

After all, the Bengals' secondary had been gutted to that point, and whatever the offense did, they needed to do their best to make sure there was as little time as possible for the Cardinals to march down the field for the game-winning score.

Instead, Dalton opted for a deep strike to Green that was almost a touchdown, but Green was unable to keep both feet inbounds, resulting in a Mike Nugent 44-yard field goal to tie the game at 31-31, with 1:03 left to play. That left the Cardinals plenty of time to drive right down the field for the game-winning field goal and the 34-31 win.

After the game, Dalton admitted it may have been unwise to not try and run out more clock, but he saw a chance to go for the win and took it.

"Yeah. I mean, 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."

As for head coach Marvin Lewis, he too agreed with Dalton's throw.

"Andy is going to get us in the play that he feels best vs the defense, and he took the one-on-one shot to A.J. and we just didn’t get our feet in," Lewis said of Dalton's decision to throw deep on 3rd-and-2. "We’ve got to get the ball in where we can make an uncontested catch and I guess A.J. stepped on the pylon."

Even had Dalton hit Green for the score, the Cardinals would have still had a minute to go down the field for the game-winning touchdown. Considering it took just three plays to get them down to the Cincinnati 27-yard line with 20 seconds left after Carson Palmer spiked the ball, the Cardinals certainly would have had a couple of shots at the end zone for the game-winner against a secondary that was without Darqueze Dennard and Adam Jones while Reggie Nelson and Dre Kirkpatrick were banged up, too.

While it was a mistake by Dalton to make that pass and not try and run down the clock more, I absolutely love it. That's the kind of decision a gunslinger quarterback makes. Too often in Dalton's first four years as an NFL quarterback, the term 'gunshy' was used with him more often than the term 'gunslinger.' I'd rather my quarterback make those kinds of risky and slightly reckless decisions than throw dump-offs, check-downs or even throw it away in critical situations.

I'll also give Dalton a pass on probably not realizing how depleted his defense was and that he should have been doing everything in his power to put less pressure on him. That's not his job. His job is to win games, and he saw the chance to throw the game-winning score and went for it.

The coaches should have made it a point there to make him run the ball or go for a short pass that picked up a first down and continued to run clock, not giving the Cardinals' offense a chance to drive down the field against a depleted Bengals secondary.

Again, Dalton should get credit for having the guts and confidence to make that call and attempt that throw, but as is the case in many facets of the NFL and sports in general, the coaches have to see and know when to overrule their players.

It's similar to a starting pitcher in baseball going eight innings and wanting to go a ninth, but the manager seeing that he's already thrown 100-plus pitches and needs to go to switch in a closer instead. The starter is going to want to pitch the ninth 99-percent of the time, but the manager has to know when it's time to go to his reliever.

You can't fault Dalton for wanting to go for it all there, but you can fault the coaches for not taking it out of his hands and running a more conservative play that ate up clock and protected their banged-up defense. Players at this level believe they can and will make the winning play every time, and it's up to the coaches to see when that might not be the case and if another method should be used to secure the win.