(Saturday, December 24th)
Final Score: Cincinnati 23, Arizona 16
Cincinnati, OH (Sports Network) - Though the final score read 23-16, the Bengals' victory over the Cardinals on Saturday will be remembered not so much for the final tally or the fact that it was a win, but that it provided the image of Jerome Simpson soaring over a defender with a full forward somersault to get into the end zone.
Oh, and it also gave the Bengals the edge to claim the AFC's second wild card spot.
Simpson's acrobatic feat completed a 19-yard touchdown play in the second quarter, the decisive score in a crucial victory. The Bengals (9-6) entered the day tied with the New York Jets for the wild card position, but the Jets lost to the Giants later Saturday.
Cincinnati is now ahead of a host of 8-7 teams and in position to make the playoffs, thanks in part to another effective performance by rookie quarterback Andy Dalton. He threw for 154 yards and two touchdowns Saturday while completing 18-of-31 passes. Dalton has thrown only one interception in his last five games.
Mike Nugent made three of five field goal attempts in the victory. The Bengals host Baltimore next Sunday with a chance to secure a playoff berth.
"You can't ask for it any other way," Dalton said. "This is where we want to be. We want a chance for the playoffs, and we're in control of that."
John Skelton started for the Cardinals again in place of the injured Kevin Kolb, and completed 23-of-44 throws for 297 yards and two scores, but was picked off three times.
The Cardinals (7-8) scored all of their points in the fourth quarter, and had a chance to tie the game with a little more than a minute left. But a wide-open Early Doucet stumbled and fell into the end zone on fourth down and Arizona's four-game winning streak came to an end. The Cardinals suffered only their second loss in their last eight contests.
"We just dug ourselves too deep of a hole, today," said Arizona head coach Ken Whisenhunt. "I credit our guys with fighting and having a chance there at the end to tie it up. But just too many mistakes early, too many turnovers."
The first of Skelton's interceptions came during the first possession of the game, and led to the Bengals taking over at the Arizona 23-yard line. Despite the advantageous field position, Cincinnati had to settle for a 24-yard kick by Nugent.
But the Bengals didn't waste another good opportunity on their next drive. They began it from midfield after forcing the Cardinals to punt from their own 13, and quickly advanced toward the end zone.
On 3rd-and-4 from the Arizona 11, Dalton found Jermaine Gresham on the left side of the field for a touchdown.
Nugent missed kicks of 35 and 48 yards on Cincinnati's next two possessions, but Simpson made sure the Bengals got into the end zone late in the second quarter.
He caught a short pass from Dalton on the left side of the field, started sprinting up the sideline and had a choice to make with Cardinals linebacker Daryl Washington closing in.
Simpson chose the air, taking a few stutter-steps before planting both feet near the three-yard line and leaping.
Perhaps it shouldn't have been a complete surprise that Simpson chose that route. After all, he set records for the long jump and high jump while in school at Coastal Carolina.
But it was still stunning to watch Simpson complete the flip and land on both feet just inside the left edge of the end zone, then turn to the side with both hands in the air, as though he just completed a gymnastics routine. He barely touched Washington, who apparently didn't see the jump coming and couldn't get a shoulder on Simpson.
The touchdown gave Cincinnati a 17-0 lead with 2:46 left in the half, and the Bengals carried a 20-point advantage into the locker room after Nugent drilled a 41-yarder on the final play of the half.
His 32-yard kick with 3:09 left in the third quarter put the Bengals up by 23 points, but they needed to hang on as the Cardinals' offense came to life in the fourth.
Larry Fitzgerald's 30-yard touchdown catch with 11:25 to play put Arizona on the board, and Cedric Benson fumbled four plays into the ensuing Bengals possession. The Cardinals took over at the Cincinnati 39 and needed four plays to score.
Skelton connected with tight end Jeff King for a two-yard touchdown, though a two-point conversion attempt failed.
After the Bengals went three-and-out, Arizona advanced deep into Cincinnati territory and had a 1st-and-goal at the one. But an aborted snap resulted in a 10-yard loss, and Arizona settled for a 29-yard field goal by Jay Feely.
Another mishap kept the Cardinals out of the end zone on their next touch, which came after Benson fumbled again. With Arizona facing fourth down at the Bengals' 17, Skelton aired out a pass to the right side of the field. But Doucet had stumbled just as he was about to enter the end zone, and the ball fell to the turf.
It wasn't certain that Doucet would have made the catch, but it was the Cardinals' last good chance at tying the game. They got the ball back at their own 40 with just 48 seconds to play, and advanced to the Cincinnati 34 before time ran out.
Kolb hasn't started since suffering a concussion against the 49ers on December 11th. Skelton made his sixth start of the season...Bengals running back Brian Leonard (knee) and receiver Andre Caldwell (groin/abdomen) missed the game...Fitzgerald finished with six catches for 105 yards, his fifth 100-yard receiving game of the season...Dalton's TDs gave him 20 for the season. The only other rookie quarterbacks to have that many touchdown passes in NFL history are Peyton Manning (26 in 1998), Charlie Conerly (22 in '48) and Hall- of-Famer Dan Marino (20 in '83)...Benson finished with 57 yards, giving him 1,016 for the season. He has rushed for at least 1,000 yards in three consecutive years.
12/24 18:33:27 ET
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