GLENDALE, Ariz. -- If this was supposed to be a Super Bowl 50 preview, then buckle up. This is about to be a fun postseason.
In a game that had so many juicy storylines coming in -- the Bengals' prime-time woes (now 8-18 since 2003) and and the revenge nature of Carson Palmer's second game against his old team -- it was a last-second, game-winning field goal that did in the Cincinnati Bengals during their 34-31 loss at University of Phoenix Stadium on Sunday night.
While Andy Dalton always bears the brunt of the blame in the Bengals' prime-time defeats, this one certainly isn't on him. Blame a porous defense on the game's final drive, which put the Arizona Cardinals in position to kick the 32-yard field goal with two seconds remaining on the game clock. Only one minute and two seconds before, the Bengals had pushed through with a drive for the ages from Dalton that brought them from an 10-point fourth-quarter deficit into a late-game tie.
Drives like that one are what will be needed from Dalton as the Bengals move forward and try to rebound after a second straight disappointing loss.
What it means: The Bengals are now 8-2 and still very much in control of the AFC North. With the Pittsburgh Steelers off this week, they only lost a half-game in the standings. Cincinnati now has to quickly rebound next Sunday, when it hosts St. Louis at home. It will be the first time in three weeks the Bengals have played a game earlier than 7 p.m. ET.
What were they thinking? Although the Bengals ultimately scored on their first possession of the fourth quarter, there was a serious "what were they thinking?" moment when offensive coordinator Hue Jackson had receiver Mohamed Sanu line up behind center on a pivotal down with the game clock running down. Dalton had just been sacked for an 11-yard loss the play before, so the Bengals were facing a second-and-21. With the safeties dropping, Sanu would have had zones deep to throw into, but there was one problem: He couldn't get the play off before the clock ran down for a delay of game. It could have been a costly penalty. Two 10-yard-plus passes and a fourth-down conversion ultimately preceded Jeremy Hill's 1-yard touchdown run.
One reason to be excited: These two words have to make a Bengals fan smile these days: Geno Atkins. The Bengals defensive tackle has been playing well all season, but he really showed up Sunday night. He made his most visible contributions in the first half, with a sack and another tackle for loss. All night he put pressure on Palmer, making it slightly more difficult to regularly exploit weaknesses in the Bengals' hobbled secondary. Although Palmer still got his yards, he probably could have had even more had it not been for the pressure Atkins applied, and the subsequent response from defensive end Michael Johnson, who also was in Arizona's backfield often. Atkins finished with four tackles.
One reason to panic: You'll read a little more about it in the "Ouch" section, but it's clear that injuries are beginning to take their toll on the Bengals' defensive backfield. Those injuries certainly could make things challenging for Cincinnati as the season continues. Also of concern: The Bengals, injured or not, gave up a few long passes and were gashed for big plays in the secondary due to missed tackles.
Fantasy watch: While the Bengals still didn't get from from Jeremy Hill the type of performance they have spent all season waiting for, he did end up giving his fantasy owners something to cheer about. The second-year running back scored two touchdowns. The scores were a lot like others he has had this season -- they came from inside goal-line territory.
Ouch: Remember when the Bengals were fully healthy and had all members of their 53-man roster consistently practicing? Yeah, that's starting to seem like a long time ago. Just when things looked the most bleak for the Bengals' secondary after cornerback Adam Jones was announced inactive with a foot injury, Cincinnati lost two more defensive backs during the game. Jones' replacement, Darqueze Dennard, was run from the contest with a right shoulder injury he sustained while attempting to tackle Cardinals receiver John Brown in the end zone during a third-quarter touchdown pass. It was announced that he had X-rays, but no results were made available. Along with Dennard, backup safety Shawn Williams sustained a second-half ankle injury that forced him from the game. This will be an important week for the Bengals' secondary as it tries to get as many of the injured defensive backs at closer to full health.