It’s not too often that you get one-for-one rematches in the NFL in back-to-back years outside of the divisional games. But, that was the case with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the Arizona Cardinals.
Last year the Bucs were “embarrassed,” in the words of their own players, by the 40-7 defeat they suffered out in Glendale. But, instead of righting last year’s wrongs, the Bucs fell once again, despite some late-game heroics, to the Cardinals out in the desert 38-33.
The big storyline coming into the game was the Cardinals acquiring running back Adrian Peterson from the New Orleans Saints. This was big because the Cardinals, without David Johnson, were dead last in the NFL in rushing yards per game with 52. On the Cardinals first drive of the game, Peterson eclipsed that average with 54 rushing yards on four carries for the game’s first score.
After a one-catch drive from the Buccaneers, the Cardinals once again got the ball back and made offense look as easy as it did the year before – maybe even easier. In a drive that included a 29-yard catch from Larry Fitzgerald, a 15-yard catch from John Brown and a 17-yard run from Peterson, the Cardinals capped off their attack with a 14-yard pass in the end zone to Troy Niklas.
Down 14-0 early, the Buccaneers offense was desperate for something. After two consecutive first down passes on first-and-10 to the tight ends O.J. Howard and Cameron Brate, the offense stalled again at midfield which resulting in another punt.
On their third drive of the game, the Cardinals completed three more big passes of 30, 26 and 11 yards, the final one ending in six points on the hands of Larry Fitzgerald, who extended his consecutive catch per game streak to 201.
During one of the early drives, Buccaneers quarterback Jameis Winston went down hard on his throwing shoulder. He returned to the game, but the rhythm was already well off between him and his receivers. After the Cardinals forced a three-and-out and went down the field to extend their lead to 24-0, Winston was subbed out for Ryan Fitzpatrick. This was a result of the score being what it was and not wanting to risk further injury for Winston.
Fitzpatrick came in the game an orchestrated a 15-play, 70-yard drive that got all the way to the Cardinals five yards line, but rather than kick a field goal down 24, the Bucs tried to get a touchdown on fourth down and came up short. So the game went into the half 24-0 for the Cardinals.
Unfortunately for the Buccaneers, instead of trying to start the game on the even part of the momentum pendulum, Fitzpatrick’s first pass of the second half was intercepted. The Cardinals responded with a 4-play, 33-yard short drive which ended in touchdown from Palmer to Brown.
Following that drive, the Buccaneers were able to respond with an eight-play, 75-yard drive that took them into the end zone with a four-yard touchdown catch from Fitzpatrick to DeSean Jackson. The Bucs tried to go for two, but failed, leaving the score 31-6. But, following that, we saw Palmer’s first incompletion of the game go for an interception by Brent Grimes on the very next drive.
After a series of punts from the Bucs and the Cardinals, the Bucs got the ball back and capped off a six-play, 63-yard drive with the first ever Harvard-to-Harvard touchdown pass and catch with Fitzpatrick and Brate. The Bucs again tried to go for two point and missed again. The score was 31-12.
That was when the Bucs started to get life.
The following drive, the Buccaneers got some luck in the form of a turnover. As Fitzgerald went to catch a pass, he was hit by linebacker Lavonte David and the ball was knocked loose. David then picked the ball up and ran it into the end zone. After the turnover and score were upheld, the Bucs went for two for a third time and were successful, resulting in a score of 31-20, then 20 unanswered points by the Buccaneers.
The game turned into a roller coaster ride after that. The Cardinals went on an eight-play, 33-yard drive that included big plays, penalties and miscommunication which ended in a punt. That was the good news for the Buccaneers. The bad new was that the Cardinal then downed the ball at the Bucs one-yard line.
On the very next play, the slim of hope that the Buccaneers had got even slimmer, as a screen pass to Mike Evans was intercepted at the one-yard line, and Peterson ran the ball into the end zone to follow.
With the score now 38-20, it was do or die. In response, Fitzpatrick led the Bucs on a 11-play, 70-yard drive that ended with Doug Martin getting in the end zone. The drive looked simple with a few catches to Adam Humphries and a few to Charles Sims. In a Bucs offense that often looks complicated, simplifying things made the ball move on the Cardinals softer defense (since they had the lead). Following the touchdown, a fail two-point attempt made the score 26-38.
After a failed drive for the Cardinals to run out the clock, the Bucs got the ball back, and in as dramatic fashion as you can script, Ryan Fitzpatrick led the Bucs on a huge 3-play, 65-yard drive which ended in a big 37-yard touchdown bomb to Evans. After the Bucs first extra point of the game, the score was 33-38.
But, unfortunately, that’s how it would end.
Quarterback Jameis Winston finished the game 5-for-10 for 61 yards before leaving with a shoulder injury. In relief, Ryan Fitzpatrick went 22-for-32 with 290 yards, three touchdowns and two interceptions. Doug Martin led the Bucs in carries with 14 and had 53 yards and one touchdown as a result, though his usage was handcuffed because of the deficit the team was in early on.
Mike Evans led the Bucs in yards with 93 on three catches with a touchdown. Cameron Brate was next with five and 70. He also extended his touchdown streak to four consecutive games. DeSean Jackson had 38 yards and a touchdown on three catches, and Adam Humphries had 51 yards on six catches.
On the other side, Carson Palmer finished his game 18-for-22 with 283 yards, three touchdowns and one interception. Adrian Peterson finished his debut with 134 rushing yards and two touchdowns on 26 carries. In the receiving game, Larry Fitzgerald had 10 catches for 138 yards and a touchdown.
Trevor Sikkema is the Tampa Bay Buccaneers beat reporter and NFL Draft analyst for PewterReport.com. Sikkema, an alumnus of the University of Florida, has covered both college and professional football for much of his career. As a native of the Sunshine State, when he's not buried in social media, Sikkema can be found out and active, attempting to be the best athlete he never was. Sikkema can be reached at: email@example.com
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