The Cincinnati Bengals came out scoring, but had to hold off a late rally by the Arizona Cardinals in Saturday’s 23-16 victory.
Cincinnati (9-6) took over the final Wild Card spot and now control their own destiny to reach the playoffs (scenarios here).
The Bengals started the scoring in the first half when Mike Nugent connected on a 24-yard field goal. That score was set up by a Rey Maualuga interception on the Cardinals (7-8) first drive. Cincinnati added seven more on its next drive when Andy Dalton connected with tight end Jermaine Gresham for his sixth touchdown of the season.
Not done scoring in the first half, the Bengals were set up with great field position once again thanks to another John Skelton interception, this time to Nate Clements. Jerome Simpson made sure the Bengals wouldn’t squander another red zone possession when he flipped over linebacker Daryl Washington and landed just over the goaline for his fourth TD of the season. The score was also Dalton’s 20 TD pass of the season.
Dalton would execute the two minute drill to perfection, setting up a last second field goal to end the half with the Bengals leading 20-0. Nugent added another field goal in the third quarter before the Cardinals broke into the scoring column in the fourth quarter.
They did so when Skelton found Larry Fitzgerald for a 30-yard touchdown cutting the lead to 23-7. Cedric Benson was in a giving mood in the second half when he fumbled the first time to set up another Skelton TD pass. A two-point conversion would fail when Jonathan Fanene knocked the ball out of Skelton’s hand. Fanene finished the game with two sacks.
Arizona would drive down the field on their next possession, but were held to a field goal to make it 23-16. Benson would fumble again (his fifth fumble in the last two games, second lost) to give the Cardinals prime field position. However, on a fourth and five play, Skelton threw to a wide open Early Ducet in the end zone, but Ducet tripped over his own feet and the ball sailed over his head.
Arizona had one more chance, but Thomas Howard stopped Andre Roberts at the Bengals 15-yard line to end the game.
Cincinnati can go to the playoffs for the first time since 2009 with a win over Baltimore next Sunday.
Passing: Cin- Dalton (18-31, 154 yards, 2 TD) Ari-Skelton (23-44, 297 yards, 2 TD, 3 INT)
Rushing: Cin-Benson (16 carries, 57 yards, 2 fumbles) Ari-Beanie Wells (14 carries, 53 yards)
Receiving: Cin-Gresham (5 catches, 56 yards, TD) Ari- Fitzgerald (6 catches, 105 yards, TD)
Turnovers: Cin-2 Ari-3