Bucs head coach Raheem Morris suggested that Tampa Bay was the best team in the NFC after last week’s 18-17 come-from-behind win over St. Louis. After yet another magical fourth quarter win – this time with a 38-35 road triumph at Arizona – Morris may be on to something. The Bucs improved to 5-2 on the season and are now tied with the Atlanta Falcons, Tampa Bay’s next opponent, for the best record in the NFC.
Youth was served in Arizona with the Bucs’ fifth-straight road victory, which ties the franchise record. Second-year quarterback Josh Freeman was masterful on Sunday completing 18-of-25 passes (72 percent) for 278 yards with one touchdown and no interceptions. The Kansas State product has now engineered six fourth quarter comebacks in just 16 career starts, including four this year alone.
Freeman’s favorite receiver in Arizona was rookie Mike Williams, who had a career-high 105 yards, including a career-long 47-yard touchdown reception, on four catches. Fellow rookie Arrelious Benn also hauled in a 53-yard pass down to the 1-yard line in the fourth quarter, which set up Tampa Bay’s go-ahead and game-winning touchdown.
When Freeman wasn’t lighting up the Arizona secondary, he was handing the ball off to rookie running back LeGarrette Blount, who had a career day with 22 carries for 120 yards and two touchdowns. Blount had a tackle-breaking 15-yard touchdown run in the third quarter, a 1-yard score to put the Bucs in the lead in the fourth quarter and a career-long 48-yard hurdling dash late in the game to seal the victory for Tampa Bay.
The Bucs were able to amass a season-high 407 yards of total offense against the Cardinals, but Freeman and Co. didn’t account for all of the points. Morris got some exceptional turnovers from his defense despite the unit giving up 396 yards and four touchdowns.
The Bucs picked off rookie quarterback Max Hall twice, returning both interceptions for touchdowns to help Tampa Bay get out to a 24-14 lead at halftime. That prompted head coach Ken Wisenhunt to change quarterbacks and go with veteran Derek Anderson with 6:25 left in the second quarter.
Weakside linebacker Geno Hayes returned an interception 41 yards for a touchdown and cornerback Aqib Talib scored on a 45-yard INT return. Both players had fantastic games with Hayes also causing an interception late in the fourth quarter by hitting Cardinals running back LaRod Stephens-Howling as he was catching the ball and allowing middle linebacker Barrett Ruud to pick it off instead. Hayes finished with five tackles, three passes defensed, a tackle for loss and his first INT this season.
Talib, who has been hot and cold by grabbing his share of interceptions this year, but also giving up too many touchdowns, finished off the Cardinals with his second interception late in the fourth quarter stepping in front of Larry Fitzgerald, who led Arizona with two touchdowns on Sunday. Anderson completed 16-of-24 passes for 234 yards, but those two fourth quarter interceptions killed Arizona’s chance to tie or win the game.
Arizona got on the scoreboard first on a 61-yard scoring drive. Hall completed a 14-yard pass to running back Beanie Wells and a 17-yard pass to Fitzgerald before hitting Fitzgerald with a 3-yard scoring strike in the end zone. With 6:25 left in the first quarter, Arizona led 7-0.
After the Bucs went three-and-out for the second time, Hayes knifed right through the line of scrimmage and past offensive tackle Levi Brown to drop Hall for a 5-yard loss with 4:51 left in the first quarter. On the next play, Morris brought the blitz, sending strong safety Sean Jones from Hall’s frontside to put enough pressure on him to throw an errant pass right to Hayes, who returned the ball 41 yards down the right sidelines for a touchdown. With 4:15 left in the first quarter, the score was tied 7-7.
A muffed punt by Sammie Stroughter was recovered by Arizona’s LaRod Stephens-Howling at the Tampa Bay 16. After two short completions by Hall and a 2-yard run by Wells, Wells scored a touchdown from the 1-yard line that gave Arizona a 14-7 lead with 10:17 left before halftime.
Tampa Bay tied the game on a quick scoring drive with Freeman completing all three of his passes. Wide receiver Mike Williams kicked the drive off with a 31-yard reception. Two plays later, he hauled in a career-long 47-yard touchdown pass from Freeman to knot the game at 14-14 with 8:59 left in the second quarter.
The Bucs took the lead in the second quarter when Talib stepped in front of Steve Breaston, who led all receivers with eight catches for 147 yards, at the Arizona 45 and raced all the way to the end zone for his first career touchdown. With 6:33 left in the second quarter, Tampa Bay led 21-14.
With Anderson taking over for Hall, who had been benched, he led Arizona to the Tampa Bay 3-yard line, but on fourth down, Anderson’s pass for Breaston deflected off the helmet of one of the Cardinals offensive linemen.
The Bucs took over at their own 3-yard line and two big strikes of 20 and 29 yards from Freeman to Micheal Spurlock, who finished with three catches for 60 yards, advanced the ball past midfield. Freeman’s pass to tight end Kellen Winslow was intercepted by Cardinals safety Adrian Wilson, but Wilson was flagged for pass interference and the turnover was negated. Cadillac Williams rushed for 10 yards and had a 17-yard gain down to the Arizona 3, but after Freeman’s pass to Maurice Stovall in the end zone was incomplete, the Bucs had to settle for a 21-yard field goal by Connor Barth right before the end of the quarter to take a 24-14 lead into halftime.
Tampa Bay added another touchdown in the third quarter with Freeman leading the way completing all three passes on the drive for 37 yards, including a 22-yarder to Mike Williams. But it was his 21-yard scramble on third-and-4 from the Arizona 36 down to the 15 that was the big play on the drive. On the next play, Blount ripped off a 15-yard run to score his second NFL touchdown and give the Bucs a 31-14 lead with 4:35 left in the third quarter.
Arizona would rebound as Anderson heated up. He completed 4-of-5 passes for 45 yards, including a 25-yarder to Early Doucet to the Tampa Bay 39. Three plays later on third-and-1 from the Tampa Bay 30, Stephens-Howling ripped off a touchdown run down the left sideline to cut Tampa Bay’s lead to 31-21 with 54 seconds left in the third quarter.
On Tampa Bay’s next possession, Blount fumbled the ball after a hard hit from linebacker Paris Lenon. Cardinals linebacker Gerald Hayes scooped up the loose ball and scored from 21 yards out. With 33 seconds left in the third quarter, Arizona trimmed Tampa Bay’s lead to 31-28.
Arizona would reclaim the lead in the fourth quarter thanks to continued sharp passing from Anderson. On first down, he completed a 36-yard pass to Breaston down to the Tampa Bay 12. Two plays later, Anderson connected with Doucet for a 6-yard gain down to the 5 before hitting Fitzgerald on a wide receiver screen for another touchdown on third-and-3 from the 5. With 9:41 left in the fourth quarter, Arizona led 35-31.
Freeman was 3-of-3 for 63 yards on the Bucs’ final scoring drive and picked up a first down on fourth-and-1 with a QB sneak. After that play, he found Benn for a 53-yard gain down to the Arizona 1. On the next play, Blount scored a touchdown behind right guard Davin Joseph and right tackle James Lee, who started in place of the injured Jeremy Trueblood. With 5:13, Tampa Bay took a 38-35 lead it would never relinquish.STATS THAT COUNT
Bucs cornerback Ronde Barber played in his 200th NFL game on Sunday and recorded his 174th consecutive start, which is the most ever by an NFL cornerback. … Tampa Bay cornerback Aqib Talib had two interceptions and scored his first touchdown on a 45-yard return. Talib now has five interceptions, which ties a career-high, on the year to lead the team. ... Bucs tight end Ryan Purvis played in his first NFL game on Sunday and caught his first pass, a 5-yarder. … Tampa Bay recorded a season-high 154 yards rushing against Arizona, which came into the game with the 31st-ranked run defense. … James Lee got his first NFL start at right tackle in place of the injured Jeremy Trueblood. … … Tampa Bay safety Cody Grimm was the Bucs’ leading tackler with eight stops. … Bucs quarterback Josh Freeman’s 53-yard pass to wide receiver Arrelious Benn was a career-long for both players. … The 47-yard touchdown reception by Tampa Bay wide receiver Mike Williams was the longest catch of his career. … Bucs defensive end Stylez G. White had his second game in which he recorded a sack and a forced fumble. White now leads the Bucs with three sacks. The Bucs have won five straight road games dating back to 2009. That ties the longest consecutive road-winning streak in franchise history. ... Tampa Bay is now 7-3 over the last 10 games dating back to the 2009 season.SUNDAY’S STARTING LINEUPS
The announced Tampa Bay starting lineup for Sunday’s game was as follows:BUCS STARTING OFFENSE
WR Mike Williams
LT Donald Penn
LG Ted Larsen
C Jeremy Zuttah
RG Davin Joseph
RT James Lee
TE Kellen Winslow
TE John Gilmore
WR Arrelious Benn
RB Cadillac Williams
QB Josh FreemanBUCS STARTING DEFENSE
LE Kyle Moore
DT Gerald McCoy
DT Roy Miller
RE Stylez G. White
WLB Geno Hayes
MLB Barrett Ruud
SLB Quincy Black
LCB Aqib Talib
RCB Ronde Barber
FS Cody Grimm
SS Sean JonesBUCS’ GAMEDAY INACTIVES
Here is a list of Tampa Bay players that did play in Sunday’s game:
QB Rudy Carpenter
RB Kregg Lumpkin
WR Preston Parker
C Jeff Faine
RT Jeremy Trueblood
DT Brian Price
DE Alex Magee
CB Elbert MackBUCS IN-GAME INJURIES
Strong safety Sabby Piscitelli injured his right leg on special teams in the first quarter, but did return to the game.
Reserve defensive tackle Ryan Sims injured his left knee with 6:07 left in the second quarter.
A few plays later, defensive end Stylez G. White walked off the field with an injury and was replaced by Tim Crowder. White would later return.
Running back LaGarrette Blount was shaken up on the play in which his fumble occurred with 33 seconds left in the third quarter. He would return in the fourth quarter.KICKOFF CONDITIONS
The announced attendance for the Buccaneers vs. Cardinals game at University of Phoenix Stadium was 61,857. The kickoff temperature was 90 degrees outside, but the game was played in a domed stadium. UP NEXT
The Buccaneers (5-2) will travel to Atlanta to face the Falcons (5-2), who had a bye week, on Sunday, November 7. Kickoff is set for 1:00 p.m. ET and will be televised on Fox.
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