CINCINNATI (AP)—Finally in the end zone after his second long interception return, Antrel Rolle didn’t know what to do next. The Arizona Cardinals cornerback had never done anything like it in the NFL.
A cartwheel, back-flip and flop sufficed for his impromptu celebration.
Rolle scored on interception returns of 55 and 54 yards Sunday—and had another interception return wiped out by penalty—in a 35-27 victory over the Cincinnati Bengals that got the Cardinals back to .500 and kept them in the NFC West race.
No one relished it more than Rolle, a first-round draft pick in 2005 who had struggled to stay healthy and make plays.
“It just goes to show that character is your biggest asset,” said Rolle, who had two career interceptions coming into the game. “I never pouted, never ranted and raved, never became a cancer to this team.”
On Sunday, he became its playmaker.
Rolle finished off the game with his third interception, returning Carson Palmer’s pass 71 yards for an apparent touchdown. The score was nullified by a penalty on Antonio Smith for taking Palmer down during the return, an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty.
Rolle did a chest dive in the end zone anyway, finishing off his amazing day.
“I never had a game like he did, not even in high school,” cornerback Eric Green said. “I’m so happy for him.”
After a three-game fade, Arizona (5-5) has rebounded by winning two in a row, matching its win total for each of the last two seasons. The latest showed off its young cornerback’s athleticism and its 36-year-old quarterback’s improvisation.
Rolle, the second cornerback taken in the 2005 draft behind Pacman Jones, became the first player to return two interceptions for touchdowns against the Bengals (3-7), who made plenty of big plays but couldn’t overcome Palmer’s career-high four interceptions.
“It feels terrible, horrible,” Palmer said. “I felt like I let the team and the coaches and the organization and the fans down. When you give up four interceptions and 14 points, it makes it almost impossible to win.”
Rolle’s 55-yard return put the Cardinals ahead 10-7 late in the first quarter. With Cincinnati rallying late in the third, Palmer threw another one to Rolle, who ran 54 yards untouched and showed off his gymnastic moves, drawing a flag for excessive celebration.
At that point, the Cardinals were in the mood to party. They’d overcome Palmer’s two long touchdown passes and DeDe Dorsey’s blocked punt return for another score. And they had done it with flair.
Even Kurt Warner, playing despite a torn ligament in his non-throwing elbow, found a way to amaze. He went 16-of-28 for 211 yards and two touchdowns, making one of the completions with his injured arm.
Warner’s only other career start against the Bengals was perfect. He threw for three touchdowns and had a perfect passer rating of 158.3 while leading the Rams to a 38-10 victory in Cincinnati in 1999.
Instead of perfect, this one was mesmerizing.
He turned his wounded arm into a left-handed complement, completing a short heave to tight end Leonard Pope that kept a touchdown drive going. Overall, he proved he’s got something left in his arm—both arms, in fact.
“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.”
Palmer had a rough time against a defense that hadn’t allowed a 300-yard passer this season, going 37-of-52 for 329 yards with two touchdowns and those four decisive interceptions.
Last week, the Cardinals defense held Detroit to minus-18 yards rushing in a 31-21 win. This time, it took advantage of a quarterback who was the Pro Bowl’s MVP and his down-and-out team.
“It feels bad,” coach Marvin Lewis said. “It should hurt, and it hurts.”
Arizona’s receivers more than held their own. Anquan Boldin topped 5,000 yards receiving in his 63rd game, matching Torry Holt as the fifth-fastest to reach the mark. Boldin had four catches for 71 yards, including a touchdown.
Larry Fitzgerald had eight catches for 93 yards and another touchdown. He reached the 4,000-yard career mark.
Rolle is the fifth Cardinals player to return a pair of interceptions for touchdowns in the same game, the first since Robert Massey in 1992. … The Cardinals were missing Pro Bowl safety Adrian Wilson, who was inactive with a heel injury. … The Bengals hadn’t blocked a punt since 1995. Dorsey was the first to score off a blocked punt since Barney Bussey in 1989. … T.J. 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. … Chris Henry caught his first touchdown pass since returning from his eight-game suspension. … Shayne Graham, who kicked seven field goals in a 21-7 win over Baltimore last week, had two more on Sunday, extending his club-record streak to 21 in a row.