The contest carried some extra weight on a few different fronts, from it being the 100th game the Arizona Cardinals would play in University of Phoenix Stadium, to it coming against the former team Palmer demanded to be traded from, and to it being a chance for his team to improve to 8-2 and tighten its hold on one of the top two NFC playoff seeds.
The Cardinals hit the trifecta with a 34-31 victory over the Bengals during their second consecutive appearance on NBC's "Sunday Night Football," as Palmer overcame two first-quarter interceptions to throw for four touchdowns.
The Bengals rallied behind quarterback Andy Dalton (315 yards, two touchdowns) to tie the score, 31-31, with 1:08 to play on a 43-yard field goal by kicker Mike Nugent. However, Palmer threw two quick completions, and the Cardinals were aided in a big way by a 15-yard unsportsmanlike conduct penalty on Cincinnati defensive tackle Domata Peko for "calling out signals."
The penalty turned what would have been a 45-yard game-winning field goal try by kicker Chandler Catanzaro into a 33-yarder, which Catanzaro nailed with two seconds remaining.
"I was concerned that (the officials) would blow it, but it was obviously what they called -- one of those jump-at-you deals," said Cardinals coach Bruce Arians, whose Arizona teams improved to 23-5 against opponents outside the NFC West, including 7-1 this season.
With their fourth consecutive victory, the Cardinals (8-2) maintained their three-game division lead and their one-game edge in the race for the No. 2 seed in the NFC postseason.
Palmer, who finished 20 of 31 for 317 yards, improved to 21-4 in his past 25 starts.
The Bengals, who held their previous three opponents to 10 points or fewer, lost for a second consecutive week after opening the season 8-0. However, it was the penalty on Peko that had coach Marvin Lewis steaming afterward.
What we learned about the Cardinals:
1. Arizona possesses the depth to overcome a moderate amount of injuries to key players. For instance, the Cardinals started the game without their right guard (Jonathan Cooper, knee) and then lost their starting left guard, Mike Iupati, to a stinger. Ted Larson played for Cooper and did well, and Earl Watford came in for Iupati and played solidly, too. The Cardinals didn't have wide receiver Michael Floyd (hamstring), but rookie wide receiver J.J. Nelson stepped up with four catches for 142 yards, including a 64-yard touchdown. Arizona also lost cornerback Patrick Peterson to an ankle injury in the fourth quarter, but in stepped Justin Bethel with help from do-everything player Deone Bucannon, who also lined up at corner late in the game. Nose tackle Xavier Williams, inactive all season, even got a chance to chip in after veteran Frostee Rucker went down with an ankle injury.
2. Carson Palmer is a legitimate NFL MVP candidate. He leads the league with 27 touchdown passes and has now thrown for 11 in his last three games -- wins at Cleveland, at Seattle and vs. Cincinnati. On Sunday, he tied a franchise record with his seventh 300-yard game of the season, joining Kurt Warner (2008) and Neil Lomax (1984) to have that many in a single season. And Palmer still has six games left to play.
3. The Cardinals' speed at wide receiver can't by overstated, and it is a big reason why the team is one of the biggest threats in the NFC. Even though most of the quickness comes from smallish players such as John Brown and Nelson, the receiving corps is just as dangerous as any, according to coach Bruce Arians. "I like speed," Arians said. "I like speed that comes in any kind of package. It is nice when it is 6-foot-4 and 220 pounds. If it's a buck fifty-eight and it's still fast, you don't have to be big to catch it over your shoulder. I have always liked fast little guys that are quick and can take the top off of the coverage. Those little guys are exciting."
--CB Patrick Peterson sustained an ankle injury in the fourth quarter and did not return. Coach Bruce Arians did not provide any update on Peterson's condition after the game. If Peterson is out for any length of time, Justin Bethel likely would get his spot in the starting lineup.
--WR Larry Fitzgerald finished with eight receptions for 90 yards Sunday, and he tied Randy Moss (982) for 12th on the NFL's all-time receptions list. He needs 13 yards to pass Hall of Fame Steve Largent (13,089) for 16th place on the league's all-time receiving yardage list.
--WR John Brown offered an explanation for his funky, wild, gyrating end-zone dances. "The background of the dance move is something like my whole family, my sister and brothers were all dancers," said Brown, who had three receptions for 43 yards and a touchdown Sunday. "I got this dubsmash video with my sister doing that same dance, and my daughter watches it over and over. So, I'm like, 'I'm just going to do it.' I know my daughter loves it, so that's why I do it."