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J.J. Nelson picks up slack as Cardinals get impressive win over Bengals

GLENDALE, Ariz. – Wide receiver J.J. Nelson’s night didn’t start so well.

On his first target Sunday, a long throw from Arizona Cardinals quarterback Carson Palmer late in the first quarter, Nelson either slowed down, stopped running or ran the wrong route. Either way, Palmer's pass fell into an abyss of Cincinnati Bengals and was intercepted.

But Nelson made up for it in a big way.

He hauled in a 64-yard touchdown, during which he displayed the speed for which he became known for at Alabama-Birmingham. The Cardinals used that touchdown to tie the game and slingshot them to a 34-31 win.

"It was a great call," Nelson said. "They were in Cover 2 so I just hit the seam, split both of them, Carson put it up there and the rest was history."

Nelson’s touchdown catch was sandwiched in between a 23-yard reception and a 36-yard catch. Nelson finished with four catches for 142 yards and the score.

While his touchdown was key, his most important catch may have come on the Cardinals’ game-winning drive, when he caught a 19-yard pass from Palmer to move Arizona from the 16 to the 35. That ignited the Cards, who marched down the field for the winning field goal.

It was Nelson’s best game of the season -- trumping his three-catch, 70-yard game in Week 8 at Cleveland -- in what’s been a trying rookie year. He’s been inactive for as many games as he’s been active (five). A shoulder injury against Chicago in Week 2 sidelined Nelson for the next four weeks. And after his big game against Cleveland, Nelson was a healthy scratch last weekend against Seattle.

What Sunday’s game did for Nelson’s confidence is immeasurable. But what it did for the Cardinals’ receiving corps can end up paying off dividends in January and even February.

Nelson's big night came while the Cardinals were without Michael Floyd, who was inactive with a hamstring injury.

"I think everybody's expecting that out of J.J.," Palmer said. "He is young and he is green as far as playing in big-time games, coming from a smaller school but I think everybody expected him to make the plays that he did and I'm just glad to see him do it."

What were they thinking? Despite making up for it with four touchdown passes in the second half, Palmer’s two interceptions in the first half have people may scratching their heads. The first targeted Larry Fitzgerald but was thrown into double coverage, which saw both defenders in front of Fitzgerald. The second was a deep throw targeting Nelson, but there was either a miscommunication or Nelson slowed down because Palmer’s pass was intercepted without a Cardinal in sight.

One reason to get excited: John Brown’s hamstring seems fine. He had three catches for 43 yards, including an 18-yard touchdown, and his speed didn’t seem hampered.

One reason to panic: The Cardinals are still making too many penalties at inopportune times. There was linebacker Kevin Minter’s holding on third-and-19 in the second quarter on a play that the Bengals threw an incomplete pass. Then there was an illegal-contact penalty on the Cardinals defense that negated a third-and-9 incomplete pass. Both gave the Bengals first downs.

Fantasy watch: If you picked up and started Nelson in case Floyd was ruled inactive, you’re the lucky winner.

Ouch: Frostee Rucker suffered an ankle injury in the third quarter. Left guard Mike Iupati went out for a few plays in the first quarter with a stinger, but returned. Cornerback Patrick Peterson suffered a left ankle injury and did not return.