These are inescapable NFL truths: There will be days when a team deserves to win and doesn’t. There will be days when a team doesn’t deserve to win and does. And there will be boneheaded mistakes or decisions over the course of those 60 minutes of action that prove pivotal in outcomes.
None of it matters when the wins and losses are tallied, and none of it mattered after the Cardinals rallied to beat the Buccaneers 13-10 at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa to end a nine-game road losing streak and even their record at 2-2.
It is fair, even correct, to question Tampa Bay coach Greg Schiano’s decision to throw on second-and-6 at his own 11-yard line with less than four minutes remaining in the game and his team nursing a 10-3 lead.
Sure, Arizona had defended the run well all day (the Bucs had 80 rushing yards on 31 attempts), but his defense had also held the Cardinals out of the end zone all day. Why risk giving them a perilously short field? Why not put the game in the hands of your defense instead of rookie quarterback Mike Glennon?
“Our struggles in running the football is one of the reasons we felt we had to mix it up,” Schiano said. “We felt we had to run our offense to get it out of there. In retrospect, would you have liked to run something different? Sure. But we make decisions and we go with them.”
It backfired when Patrick Peterson intercepted a ball over the middle and returned it to the Tampa Bay 13-yard line. One play later, Larry Fitzgerald beat cornerback Darrelle Revis with a terrific move in the end zone, QB Carson Palmer delivered a strike and the game was tied.
After Justin Bethel pinned the Bucs deep with a special teams tackle on the ensuing kickoff, Chandler Hamilton High School product Dontay Moch sacked Glennon at the 1-yard line and the Bucs punted, giving the Cardinals another short field to set up Jay Feely’s game-winning 27-yard field goal.
Peterson sealed it with his second interception with 48 seconds left.
“Wouldn’t have any other ending at Raymond James Stadium. Kind of used to those kind. Haven’t been on the losing end for a while at this place,” said coach Bruce Arians, who was a Pittsburgh assistant in the Steelers’ last-second win over the Cardinals in Super Bowl XLIII in Tampa. “We obviously started poorly offensively with a couple just bad plays. But we were able to hang in there and overcome it.”
The Cardinals needed this one badly to prevent this season from spiraling like the previous three did. Although they are just a quarter of the way through the schedule, the Cards were staring at a 1-3 start. After next week’s home game against Carolina, they travel to San Francisco, host Seattle, host Atlanta, have a bye and host Houston. The latter four teams all advanced to the round of eight in last year’s playoffs.
“I think going home 2-2 is huge,” Palmer said. “Now we have a chance to go back and play in our stadium and use the crowd noise and use that atmosphere to our advantage.”
Through most of the game, the high-flying offense that Arians had promised upon his arrival actually looked like it had regressed. Fitzgerald wasn’t targeted in the first half, running back Rashard Mendenhall had a drop, a near-fumble and an actual fumble that led to the Buccaneers’ lone TD, and the offense managed a paltry 87 yards in the first two quarters.
When the offense finally started moving the ball, Palmer killed a pair of third-quarter drives with interceptions, one in the end zone when he threw behind and short of Michael Floyd, who was double covered.
The Cards finally broke a string of six scoreless quarters on Feely’s 42-yard field goal early in the fourth quarter, but had it not been for Schiano’s questionable decision, Peterson, Palmer, Fitzgerald and Feely may never have had the opportunity for late-game heroics.
Who knows if the Cards will build on this win with three outside linebackers out and Jasper Brinkley, Darnell Dockett and Daryn Colledge all leaving Sunday’s game with injuries. But at least nose tackle Dan Williams and inside linebacker Daryl Washington return this week. And at least the team and the community didn’t leave Sunday’s game with the same sickening feeling that clouded the past three seasons.
“I’ve been in this league for a long time, and I know that you have to play for a full 60 minutes,” safety Yeremiah Bell said. “In games like that, you just keep your head down, keep grinding and when the clock says zero, look up and see what the score says.”