Have you ever felt disconcerted? It is a terrible feeling, the worst in the world.
Wait, no, actually it isn’t. “Disconcerted” is when you realize you have left your shirt partly untucked. When you’re a quarter short for the vending machine. When your uncle starts telling a mildly off-color story at Thanksgiving. You’re flustered or rattled, not devastated.
A day when the worst thing that happens to you is being disconcerted is a pretty good one.
After a back-and-forth contest, the score was tied at 31. Carson Palmer led the host Cardinals racing down the field in less than 60 seconds, advancing to the 27 of the Bengals with six seconds on the clock. That left them with a potential 45-yard field goal to win.
But as the players lined up for Palmer to spike the ball and stop the clock, there was movement, and a flag flew.
The offensive line had seemed to jump. But it wasn’t their fault, in the view of the officials. Defensive tackle Domata Peko of the Bengals had shouted in a way meant to imitate the Cardinals’ snap count and confuse them.
He picked up a 15-yard penalty for “calling signals out in an effort to draw the offense into a false start.”
The N.F.L.’s voluminous rule book deals with such an infraction specifically. Rule 12, section 3, article 1 lists “prohibited acts.” Alongside (a) punching, (b) using insulting language and (g) using the ball as a prop is (j) “Using acts or words by the defensive team that are designed to disconcert an offensive team at the snap.”
The Cardinals had been disconcerted.
The unsportsmanlike conduct penalty took the ball half the distance to the goal line, and suddenly a possibly tricky field goal was a comfortable 32-yarder. Chandler Catanzaro made it, and the Cardinals won 34-31, improving to 8-2.
“I was just saying, ‘Get set, get set, get set,’ ” Peko told ESPN. “I don’t know if ‘set’ sounds like ‘hike’ to them. I don’t know if it was the way I said it quicker like, ‘Get set!’ with the bass in my voice or whatever. I don’t know.”
Bengals Coach Marvin Lewis also disagreed with the call. “Who knows, they get the phantom call there at the end, it’s kind of ridiculous,” he told The Cincinnati Enquirer.
But the Cardinals felt justice was done. “It was real obvious,” Palmer told reporters. “The ref was right there. They obviously said the snap count, and that’s a 15-yarder.”
Now the Bengals, after winning their first eight games, have lost two in a row and could be in danger of missing out on a playoff bye.