Print and Go Back ESPN.com: NFL Nation [Print without images]

Saturday, December 24, 2011
Wrap-up: Bengals 23, Cardinals 16

By Mike Sando


Thoughts on the Arizona Cardinals' 23-16 road defeat against the Cincinnati Bengals in Week 16:

What it means: The Cardinals were eliminated from playoff contention while losing for only the second time since opening the season with a 1-6 record. They now need a Week 17 victory over Seattle to avoid a second consecutive losing season. Quarterback John Skelton, starting in place of the injured Kevin Kolb, mounted another stirring fourth-quarter comeback, but could not quite pull it off. Finishing the season with a home defeat to the Seahawks would undermine the good feeling surrounding the team before Saturday.

What I liked: The Cardinals rallied for another improbable fourth-quarter comeback, this time after falling behind 23-0. Larry Fitzgerald's 30-yard touchdown reception in the fourth quarter got Arizona on the scoreboard while continuing a run of big plays for him this season. Fitzgerald has improved his yards-per-catch average by more than five from last season. Running back Beanie Wells topped 1,000 yards for the season, a career first and a Cardinals first since Edgerrin James did it during the 2007 season. The offense gained traction in the fourth quarter, continuing a season-long trend. Skelton found Jeff King for a touchdown that pulled the Cardinals within 23-13 midway through the fourth quarter. Calais Campbell, who entered the game with seven sacks, collected another one. He forced and recovered a fumble to get the ball back for Arizona with the team trailing by only seven points and with more than three minutes remaining. The Cardinals drew up the perfect fourth-and-5 play with a chance to tie the game, getting receiver Early Doucet wide open in the end zone for what should have been an easy touchdown.

What I didn't like: Doucet stumbled and could not make the tying touchdown reception after the Cardinals had clawed back into contention late. Was the pass behind him, or did he simply fall down on his own while crossing the goal line without a defender near him? Either way, the results were painful for the Cardinals and fatal to their playoff hopes. It had to be troubling for Arizona to see Skelton toss three interceptions as the Cardinals fell behind 23-0 with the team's playoff viability on the line. Skelton repeatedly missed receivers high, a problem for him throughout the season. The Bengals had been struggling and were not at all impressive during their victory over St. Louis last week. For the Cardinals to fall behind so quickly and by such a large amount was unexpected. A penalty against Cardinals strong safety Adrian Wilson for a hit on Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton nullified an interception by cornerback Patrick Peterson. The hit did not appear particularly flagrant. It was a tough break against the Cardinals at a point in the game when they needed all the help they could get. Peterson later left the game with an apparent injured Achilles' tendon. The Cardinals put the ball on the ground twice in critical situations, once on a two-point conversion try, and again in the red zone -- both in the fourth quarter.

What's next: The Cardinals are home against the Seahawks in Week 17.