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The loss by Washington (6-5-1) clinched a playoff spot for the 11-1 Dallas Cowboys.
Palmer's 25-yard touchdown pass to Johnson with 11:09 to play put Arizona ahead 24-20, the fourth lead change of the second half.
After a Washington field goal, Palmer's 42-yard touchdown pass to J.J. Nelson with 1:56 padded gave the Cardinals (5-6-1) a 31-23 lead.
Johnson, who also scored on a 1-yard run, became the second player in NFL history to top 100 yards from scrimmage in the first 12 games of a season. Edgerrin James was the other.
Johnson carried the ball 18 times for 84 yards and caught nine passes for another 91.
Larry Fitzgerald caught 10 passes for 78 yards, moving past Cris Carter into third on the NFL career receptions list.
Cousins completed 21 of 37 passes for 271 yards and a touchdown. His 59-yard pass to DeSean Jackson on the first series of the second half set up his 1-yard touchdown sneak.
That gave Arizona a 17-13 lead. Washington came right back. Cousins threw to a wide-open Jamison Crowder on a 26-yard touchdown play to put Washington back on top, 20-17, with 1:06 left in the third quarter.
The Cardinals avoided what would have been the team's first three-game losing streak since coach Bruce Arians came to the desert four seasons ago.
Washington center Spencer Long left the game early to be evaluated for a concussion and did not return.
Washington: Washington returns to NFC East play with a game at Philadelphia next on Sunday.
Cardinals: Arizona travels across the country to face Miami on Sunday.
CHICAGO – The 49ers celebrated like they had just scored a touchdown and taken a lead in the second quarter against the Chicago Bears on Sunday.
But they did not score. And the ensuring premature celebration probably ended up preventing the 49ers from their best opportunity to get into the end zone, period.
Dontae Johnson scooped up a punt Shaun Draughn deflected off the foot of Bears punter Pat O’Donnell. Johnson returned it 25 yards and was ruled to have stepped out of bounds at the 4-yard line.
But Johnson, thinking he had scored, did a snow angel at the back of the end zone. Rookie Rashard Robinson also got on his back and did the same thing. Referee Pete Morelli's crew flagged Robinson for unsportsmanlike conduct.
“They understand the rules of the game,” 49ers coach Chip Kelly said of his players. “Dontae is allowed to do whatever. He is just celebrating. But I don’t think he can go to the ground, so it’s just going to be a single-person celebration and you can’t use any props.
“We go over all of this and (it’s) not a disciplined play by us and we will re-emphasize what we have to do in terms of discipline and poise. Play with emotion and not let emotion play us. I like when guys have emotion, but not when it jeopardizes us.”
Kelly added, “I know our coordinators do a really good job of showing things that happen around the league so we learn from other people, and we will really emphasize that again this week.”
On the question of whether Johnson was truly out of bounds, a play in which a ballcarrier is ruled down by contact or out of bounds (not involving fumbles or the line to gain) is not reviewable.
Robinson’s penalty moved the 49ers back to the 19-yard line. Carlos Hyde was stopped for a 1-yard loss; Hyde gained 3 yards; and Colin Kaepernick completed a 4-yard pass to Vance McDonald on a third-and-8 play. Phil Dawson kicked a 31-yard field goal for a 3-0 lead.
The snowy conditions were in stark contrast to the mid-80s temperatures in which the 49ers trained during the week in Orlando, Fla. Kelly downplayed the possibility that the team’s stop to prepare at the University of Central Florida had a negative impact on the 49ers’ inability to function in the cold weather.
"It's not like we could have practiced in Saskatchewan,” Kelly said.
“That’s got nothing to do with it,” said 49ers quarterback Blaine Gabbert, who replaced starter Colin Kaepernick in the fourth quarter. “We’re professionals. Rain, sleet, sun, cloudy weather, freezing cold, 90 degrees — that has no effect on how we approach and how we get ready to play a football game.”
The 49ers have lost 11 consecutive games. This might have been the club’s worst showing, yet. Although some players were heard cursing as they entered the locker room after the game, others were seen laughing and taking things lightly in the locker room and in the food line before boarding buses for the airport.
“You have to play for pride, man,” 49ers left tackle Joe Staley said. “You got to play in the NFL. You got to play for pride. Play for your job. This is a situation that none of us want to be in. If you have pride in what you do, that’s going to carry you through the last four games.”