Cardinals Enjoy Playoff Buzz as Late-Season Surge Continues : Interconference: Third consecutive victory, 28-7 over Bengals, makes postseason play a real possibility.

From Associated Press

Playoff excitement isn’t the norm in Phoenix. Neither is a winning season.

But then, neither is a coach like Buddy Ryan.

The Arizona Cardinals took another step to their first winning record since 1984 and their first postseason appearance in a non-strike year since 1975 by beating the Cincinnati Bengals, 28-7, on Sunday.

“We need to try and get to the playoffs,” said Garrison Hearst, who ran a yard for the first Cardinal score and threw a 10-yard pass to Larry Centers for the second. Jay Schroeder passed 15 yards to Ricky Proehl for the third score by Arizona, which entered the game with an NFL-low 20 touchdowns. Centers ran 10 yards for the fourth.

In winning their third consecutive game, the Cardinals (8-7) clinched their first .500-or-better season since going 9-7 a decade ago.


With the New York Giants’ 16-13 victory over Philadelphia on Sunday, the Cardinals can make the playoffs by beating Atlanta on Saturday, coupled with a Dallas victory over the Giants and a San Francisco win over Minnesota on Monday night. Losses by the Giants and Green Bay at Tampa Bay would have the same effect.

“We have to go to Atlanta with a positive attitude and come out next week real focused,” said Hearst, who had 62 yards in 13 carries.

Schroeder’s toss to Proehl came on the first play of the second quarter as Arizona built a 21-0 lead, its biggest early margin since the first half of a 31-14 victory over Pittsburgh on Oct. 9, 1988.

“I forgot what it felt like, it had been so long,” said Ryan, hired in February after Joe Bugel was fired following a 7-9 season. “Like Seth Joyner said on the sideline, it feels good to have the pressure off.”

“It makes the game a lot of fun,” said Centers, who had four catches and set a franchise record with 72 receptions in a season. He broke the record of 70, set in 1984 by Ottis Anderson.

The game became tighter in the second half.

Schroeder sat out the second half because of a sore right knee, and the Cardinals bogged down behind Steve Beuerlein until a fourth-quarter drive capped by Centers’ scoring run on a draw play with 10:04 left.


The Cardinals dominated, keeping the ball for 31:31 to just 18:29 for Cincinnati and outgained the Bengals, 375 yards to 189.

The Bengals (2-13), who lost their fifth in a row, scored on Jeff Blake’s four-yard pass to Carl Perkins in the third quarter. But they had just 33 yards at halftime against Arizona’s third-ranked defense, partly because of two lost fumbles.

“We just got off to a bad start and didn’t recover,” Cincinnati Coach Dave Shula said.

Joyner intercepted a pass in the end zone in the third quarter to end Cincinnati’s last serious threat.

Blake said he felt Joyner’s interception, which came on the first Bengals possession after their score, was a killer.

“That broke out backs. We had the momentum going our way,” he said.

Blake said he looked toward Harold Green and saw Joyner. He said he never saw Joyner drop in front of Tony McGee.

“My first read was the flat, and he was covering Harold in the flat, and when I went to throw the ball to the inside, he broke off his guy and came inside to pick it off.”


Hearst scored on the third play of an 11-yard drive which began after an Arizona punt hit Roger Jones on the ankle and Bryan Reeves of the Cardinals recovered.

The next Cardinals score came after a more conventional punt. Hearst had two eight-yard runs during the 64-yard drive, then took a pitch from Schroeder, rolled right and threw to Centers in the end zone after the safeties moved up for run support.

The Cardinals got another break when Blake pulled back from center too quickly and fumbled. Keith McCants recovered on the Bengal 27.