At half time the Cincinnati Bengals were coasting. A 20 point lead and a further field goal in the third quarter stretched it to 23. Mission accomplished; a comfortable victory to keep their playoff hopes alive and end the Arizona Cardinals playoff hopes. In the end the Bengals did win out, but a mini fourth quarter collapse put their ability to control their own destiny, in the playoff race, in doubt. But for the most untimely trip of the season, they would likely have been headed to an overtime period with a Cardinals team that has shown itself capable of pulling off the biggest plays in overtime periods to put away their opponent. The Bengals flirted with disaster in the fourth but their win, combined with a New York Jets loss, sees a sixth seed in an AFC North dominated playoffs within their grasp.
For the Cardinals this was the end of an improbable playoff run as they recovered from a 1-6 start to sit at 7-7 entering this week’s game. Behind some of the most inconsistent and at times awful quarterback play during that stretch that is a truly remarkable run that shows that Ken Whisenhunt might just be building a team that can grow and challenge the San Francisco 49ers in the coming seasons if they can find the right man under center.
The Bengals now turn their attention to next week as they try to prove themselves as a playoff worthy team as their Cardinals begin to turn their attentions to next season. Right now we’ll turn our attention back to Saturday’s game to take a look at some of the key performers.
Arizona – Three Performances of Note
If the 49ers have the best pair of 3-4 ends in the NFC West, and probably the entire NFL, then there may not be a more active pairing than the Cardinals’ duo of Calais Campbell and Darnell Dockett. The almost hyperactivity of the Cardinals’ pairing doesn’t always lead consistent positive play, as it did this week with Dockett (+3.6) leading the line against the run (+3.9 run defense) and Campbell (+4.2) leading the line as a pass rusher (+2.5 pass rush). The Bengal to suffer the wrath Dockett was Mike McGlynn who at 5:03 in the third and 1:12 in the fourth gave up a pair of tackles deep in the backfield. In fact McGlynn was beaten three times on tackles at or behind the line of scrimmage with one more coming after a two yard gain.
All he does is win… and he nearly did again
The Tebow effect may have got more press but the logic defying effect of John Skelton (-3.3) in Arizona has been almost as strong for the Cardinals. In spite of yet another poor performance from the Cardinals’ signal caller, he had another comeback and potential victory within his grasp and was only denied it by the slip from Early Doucet, saving the Bengals’ blushes on a fourth quarter coverage bust. For once Skelton couldn’t pull it back from a bad start, but his interception thrown to Nate Clements at 6:48 in the second quarter is as bad as you are ever likely to see. It would have been a perfect dumpoff pass had the Cardinals been playing in orange. His other two interceptions highlight the accuracy concerns, which are surely the greatest stumbling block for him to overcome to have an extended stint as a starter in the NFL.
What a game to go out on
If this proves to be the final game of Patrick Peterson’s (+1.8) rookie season, after suffering an Achilles injury in the third quarter, then he would be going out on his best coverage game of the season. After struggling through inconsistent play at corner all season Peterson has seemingly closed out his rookie campaign by allowing no catches on two targets whilst picking up an interception that was nullified by a penalty. The only blot on Peterson’s copybook this week was a defensive pass interference penalty midway through the first quarter. His final play of the season (potentially) showed the potential that he will hope to build upon next season as he undercut AJ Green on an underthrown post route to pick off Andy Dalton who was only saved by a roughing the passer penalty.
Cincinnati – Three Performances of Note
Marking his return
Weight problems have marred the start of his professional career and he has struggled to stay on the field for the Bengal. This week, on his return to the starting lineup, Andre Smith (+5.6) gave the Christmas gift of hope to Bengals fans as he finally delivered on the talent that made him a sixth overall pick ahead of the 2009 season. Smith was perfect in pass protection for only the second time in a full game all season, yielding zero pressure on 40 dropbacks. His work in the running game was just as impressive as he was able to control whichever Cardinal linebacker or defensive end he faced with ease, principally sealing defenders inside to set up an edge. His block on Dockett at 4:17 in the second quarter was the key block on a third down conversion by Cedric Benson just ahead of Jerome Simpson’s improbable touchdown leap.
Two more fumbles from Cedric Benson (-2.8), just as the Bengals looked to their workhorse to carry a heavy workload to see the game out, must make them question how long this fumble streak will last. After fifteen weeks without a fumble, Benson has now had multiple fumbles in consecutive games. Outside of those fumbles Benson picked up only three first downs on his other 14 carries and was, generally speaking, unable to make an impact. His second fumble was the most worrying as it came on a second effort to try to close the game out at the 3:16 mark in the fourth quarter. Benson usually manages to fight for yardage whilst maintaining excellent ball security, this week his loose ball handling almost sent the Bengals to overtime.
Talent shining through
Before all of his legal problems, before he was suspended, before he shunned his Pacman moniker, Adam Jones (+1.7) was a first round pick and he was that for good reason, because he is an extremely talented cover corner. That talent shone through this week as he matched up extremely well in coverage with whichever Cardinal receiver he was faced with. There was one coverage bust with Chris Crocker, allowing a 39 yard completion to Larry Fitzgerald, which took the shine off of his performance and led to a “heated discussion” with Crocker on the sideline, just as the wheels started to come off for the Bengals. Outside of that play Jones allowed only an eight yard completion to Andre Roberts whilst breaking up two of the five passes thrown in his direction.
– For an area that should be a right handed quarterback’s strong suit John Skelton struggles passing to the right. Outside of the numbers to that side he was 4-of-9 for only 11 yards with two interceptions in this game.
– After not having fumbled this season until Sunday’s game in St Louis, Cedric Benson has now coughed the ball up five times in seven days with a further pair of fumbles in this game.
– The two batted passes by Calais Campbell in this game takes his season total to eight. Doubling the four he managed last season.
PFF Game Ball
The Cardinals combination of Darnell Dockett and Calais Campbell produced performances to remember. Flourishing in all facets of the game they provided stern run defense, pressure in the pocket, batted passes and even the ability to chase down screen plays.
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