Antrel Rolle's 3 interceptions lead Arizona over Bengals 35-27
CINCINNATI -- Antrel Rolle reached the end zone for what he thought was his third interception return for a touchdown, slowing to catch his breath after a 71-yard run. He wasn't sure what to do next.
No one had ever returned three interceptions for touchdowns in an NFL game. For an instant, the young cornerback thought he'd pulled it off.
How to celebrate?
He dived on his chest and stretched out in the end zone, which felt more like an easy chair given how many times he'd been there. Then, his Arizona Cardinals teammates caught up with him and delivered the bad news: a penalty would nullify this one.
Rolle had to settle for matching history instead of making it Sunday during a 35-27 victory over the Cincinnati Bengals. His interception returns of 55 and 54 yards tied the NFL record -- he was the 23rd to pull it off -- and kept the Cardinals (5-5) on the upswing.
"That's the sign of a good team, that somebody makes a play when it needs to be made," said Kurt Warner, who used both arms to complete passes. "Somebody says, 'I'm going to make it. I'm going to do it."
After a three-game slide, Arizona has won its last two games to stay one behind Seattle for the NFC West lead. The five victories match the Cardinals' totals for each of their last two seasons.
Their only disappointment was that Rolle didn't get touchdown No. 3 on his last-minute interception of Carson Palmer. Antonio Smith was flagged for unnecessarily taking Palmer down during the return, drawing a penalty he disputed to no avail.
Rolle had to settle for two touchdowns.
"It would have been good to have three, though," Smith said. "This (protecting the) quarterback thing is getting outrageous."
That adjective certainly applies to the Bengals' season.
Instead of contending for the AFC North title, Cincinnati (3-7) is having its worst season in five years under coach Marvin Lewis. Every big play tends to get wiped out by an equally bad play.
Palmer, the Pro Bowl's MVP, had the game-turning ones this time. He threw a career-high four interceptions, three of them to Rolle.
"It will be tough to forget this one," said Palmer, who was 37-of-52 for 329 yards with two touchdowns along with those interceptions. "When you throw four and don't give your team a chance to win, it just feels horrible."
One player provided the biggest bummer moments.
Rolle was the second cornerback taken in the 2005 draft, behind Pacman Jones. He missed most of his rookie season because of a knee injury that required two operations. He had only two career interceptions coming into Sunday's game.
In the first quarter, Rolle correctly read a pass intended for T.J. Houshmandzadeh, cut in front and returned the interception 55 yards, dodging a diving Palmer at the goal line. That one got the Cardinals rolling.
After DeDe Dorsey blocked a punt and returned it 19 yards for a touchdown late in the third quarter, cutting it to 28-27, Rolle made the play that put Arizona back in charge. He anticipated a pass to Chad Johnson and returned it 54 yards.
To celebrate, he did a cartwheel and back-flip in the end zone, then flopped to the ground.
"I was caught up in the moment," said Rolle, who became the fifth Cardinals player to return two interceptions in a game. "It wasn't much of a back-flip."
It was some performance.
"I never had a game like he did, not even in high school," cornerback Eric Green said. "I'm so happy for him."
So was Warner, who had one of those double-take moments of his own while going 16-of-28 for 211 yards and a pair of touchdowns. Under pressure in the second quarter, the right-hander decided to lob a pass with his left arm, which needs a brace to protect a torn elbow ligament.
The result? Tight end Leonard Pope caught it and ran 22 yards to the 4, setting up a touchdown.
"It's good to be lucky sometimes," Warner said. "Sometimes it's not pretty. Sometimes it's not how you draw it up. But you've got to do it."
It sure left the Cardinals with a good feeling.
"I think it's part of growing as a team," first-year coach Ken Whisenhunt said. "To win a game like this on the road is a good testament to the progress that we are making."
The last Cardinals player to return two INTs for touchdowns was Robert Massey in 1992. ... WR Anquan Boldin topped 5,000 yards receiving in his 63rd game, matching Torry Holt as the fifth-fastest to reach the mark. ... The Bengals hadn't blocked a punt since 1995. Dorsey was the first to score off a blocked punt since Barney Bussey in 1989. ... Houshmandzadeh caught his 11th touchdown pass. He has a TD in every game except one. He left the game in the fourth quarter with an unspecified hip injury.
Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press
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