Arizona 31, Washington 23
When: 4:25 PM ET, Sunday, December 4, 2016
Where: University of Phoenix Stadium, Glendale, Arizona
GLENDALE, Ariz. -- Carson Palmer passed for three touchdowns, including a 42-yarder to J.J. Nelson with just under two minutes to play, and the Arizona Cardinals held off the Washington Redskins 31-23 on Sunday at University of Phoenix Stadium.
With the victory, the Cardinals (5-6-1) avoided losing their third straight game for the first time under Bruce Arians. It also kept Arizona's fleeting playoff hopes alive, at least for another week. Washington (6-5-1) lost its second straight but still has a better shot of making it to the postseason than Arizona.
"It's just a win," Arians said, "but it's a heck of a lot better than a loss. It makes everything taste better tonight and to finally have a Victory Monday. I can't ask for them to practice any harder, but I bet there's a lot more smiles at practice on Wednesday."
In a game pitting the league's top-ranked defense of the Cardinals against the Redskins' second-ranked offense, it basically boiled down to the final two minutes of play.
Leading 24-23, the Cardinals made a gutsy decision to go for it on fourth-and-1 at their own 34-yard line. David Johnson got them the first down with a 14-yard run. Moments later, Palmer found a streaking Nelson running down the ride sideline and he hauled in a 42-yard scoring pass with Quinton Dunbar and Duke Ihenacho covering him as tightly as they could.
Chandler Catanzaro's extra point made it 31-23, meaning the Redskins would have to score and convert a two-point try to tie it with 1:56 remaining and all three of their timeouts available.
Washington made it interesting, but Kirk Cousins' pass to Pierre Garcon was off target and intercepted by Cardinals cornerback Patrick Peterson to seal the game.
Afterward, Peterson said it was about time the defense held its own and helped finish a game for the Cardinals.
"It felt great because Coach has been preaching the last three weeks it's about time that the defense gets a win and we got one today," Peterson said. "I believe it can help propel us throughout the rest of the season. I believe these are the games that we needed to help us finish up this stretch."
Palmer finished 30 of 46 for 300 yards with the three touchdowns with no interceptions. Cousins was 21 of 37 for 271 yards with one passing touchdown, one rushing score, a fumble and an interception.
Cardinals receiver Larry Fitzgerald had 10 receptions for 78 yards. With his sixth and seventh catches, he moved past Hall of Famers Cris Carter (1,101) and Marvin Harrison (1,102) for third place on the NFL's all-time receptions list. Fitzgerald now has 1,106.
"It's always nice to climb up a little higher," Fitzgerald said, "but it is humbling to know that I'm still 400 catches behind Jerry Rice."
Johnson registered his 12th game with 100 or more scrimmage yards, joining Edgerrin James as the only two players to accomplish the feat in their first 12 games to start a season. Johnson ran for 84 yards and a touchdown on 18 carries and caught nine passes for 91 yards and another touchdown.
Redskins coach Jay Gruden was not happy the way his team came out to start the game.
"I don't like the way they (the Cardinals) had a 16-play drive. Right (down) our throat to start the game," Gruden said. "I don't like the way our offense answered with two penalties in the first drive and having to punt. That's not the way we want to come out of a football game, getting ready for a good team on the road. I don't like the fact that we had two turnovers and we didn't cause any.
"I don't like the fact that we lost the game. Hats off to coach Arians and the Arizona Cardinals, but I feel like we underachieved today and that's very frustrating."
The Redskins took their first lead in the third quarter when Cousins scored on a 1-yard rushing touchdown. The score was set up by Cousins hitting DeSean Jackson for a 59-yard strike that moved the ball to the Arizona 5-yard line.
Trailing 13-10, the Cardinals answered back when, on Washington's next possession, Calais Campbell stripped the ball loose from Cousins and Markus Golden returned the fumble 20 yards to the Redskins' 10. Three plays later, Palmer found Michael Floyd for a 6-yard touchdown pass and the Cardinals went ahead 17-13.
"It's going to happen through the course of a game," Cousins said if the strip-sack and fumble. "Going against the top defense in the NFL, you have to know they are all not going to go perfectly, and you hope you make enough plays to come away with a win in the end. We were not able to do that today."
Arizona's defense, which entered the game having allowed just four passing touchdowns in its past 29 quarters of play, had trouble trying to stop Cousins. It showed on Washington's next scoring drive as Cousins hit Garcon for a big 28-yard gain and then found a wide-open Jamison Crowder for a 26-yard touchdown.
Crowder got between defensive backs Tony Jefferson and D.J. Swearinger and had a clear path to the end zone.
So did Johnson on Arizona's ensuing possession, which helped the Cardinals reclaim the lead 24-20 with 11:09 left to play. Johnson capped a 10-play, 75-yard drive by catching a short screen pass by Palmer, picking up a huge block that allowed him to bounce inside and out and run freely for a 25-yard scoring play.
Trying to respond, Washington had to settle for a 53-yard field goal by Dustin Hopkins, which pulled the Redskins within 24-23 with 6:01 remaining.
Each team was missing a key player -- the Redskins were without star tight end Jordan Reed and the Cardinals were without play-making safety Tyrann Mathieu. Both players were sidelined with shoulder injuries.
The Cardinals opened the game by scoring a touchdown on their first possession for the second consecutive week. They hadn't scored a game-opening TD all season until last week at Atlanta.
Arizona marched 75 yards on 15 plays with Johnson capping it on a 1-yard touchdown plunge. The Cardinals held the ball for a whopping 8 minutes, 17 seconds.
Washington got a 47-yard field goal from Hopkins to pull to within 7-3 five minutes into the second quarter, and on its next possession drove 47 yards on 11 plays with Hopkins kicking a 20-yard field goal to make it 7-6 with 1:42 left in the half.
That left plenty of time for the Cardinals to try and tack on more points. Palmer hit Fitzgerald with a 23-yard gain and completed three passes to Johnson for 39 yards, the last of which set up Catanzaro for a 28-yard field goal and a 10-6 lead for Arizona.
NOTES: Redskins starting center Spencer Long suffered a concussion and was ruled out of the game during the third quarter. John Sullivan replaced him in the lineup. ... With his fourth reception on Sunday, the Cardinals' Larry Fitzgerald became the youngest player in NFL history (33 years, 95 days old) to reach 1,100 career receptions. ... Washington entered the game tied with the Giants for the fewest sacks allowed since the start of last season (41). On Sunday, Kirk Cousins was sacked two times. ... Sunday's game marked the first time this season that the retractable roof was open for a game at University of Phoenix Stadium. The game-time temperature was 68 degrees.
Top Game Performances
Team Stats Summary
Arizona will play their next game on the road against Miami. The Cardinals have a W/L % of .250 after a win and .667 after a loss.
Washington will play their next game on the road against Philadelphia. The Redskins have a W/L % of .571 after a win and .333 after a loss.