I’m not sure how it happened, but the Arizona Cardinals beat the Tampa Bay Buccaneers 13-10 Sunday at Raymond James Stadium to push their record to 2-2 on the season.
Now this wasn’t the same kind of shock we all felt when the Cardinals knocked off Tom Brady and the New England Patriots in Foxborough in Week 2 of 2012. This is a much different kind of shock, because the guys in the red uniforms simply stunk up the joint for three quarters in a game they were expected to win.
But the fourth quarter was a different story for Arizona, as they got two field goals from Jay Feely and a 13-yard touchdown pass from Carson Palmer to Larry Fitzgerald to head home with a win under their belt.
Here are six things that stood out during the Cardinals’ surprising (but not surprising) win against the Buccaneers.
1. Tip your hat to the defense – No Sam Acho. No Lorenzo Alexander. No Alex Okafor. No Rashad Johnson. Darnell Dockett, Jasper Brinkley and Vic So’oto left the game due to injury. Yet the Cardinals didn’t bat an eye, holding the Bucs to a total of 253 yards of offense in the game — with only 109 of that coming in the second half. Arizona bottled up Tampa Bay running back Doug Martin, holding the league’s second-leading rusher to just 45 yards on 27 carries (1.7 yards per tote). And they came up with turnovers in the fourth quarter. Patrick Peterson had two interceptions of rookie QB Mike Glennon, the second sealing the game with :48 left.
It was a gutty effort by a depleted defensive unit, and that effort was the biggest factor in the win.
2. Offensive Line – Admit it. When Tampa Bay’s Gerald McCoy broke through unblocked and sacked Arizona quarterback Carson Palmer for an 8-yard loss on the game’s first play, you thought that was going to be a common occurrence Sunday, didn’t you? It wasn’t. That was the only sack yielded by the Cardinals on the day and according to NFL statistics, Palmer was hit only three times in the game. Sure, Levi Brown and Eric Winston combined for three false start penalties, but there were few breakdowns on the line, even after guard Daryn Colledge left the game with a leg injury. It wasn’t a spectacular performance, but a good enough win to earn a road win.
3. The running game – If you take away Andre Ellington’s 25-yard run in the second quarter and Palmer’s 10-yard scramble (yes, you read that right), the Cardinals had 21 yards rushing on 18 carries. Rashard Mendenhall couldn’t get anything going on the day and fumbled twice. You definitely get the feeling that the Cardinals are moving toward making Ellington the feature back in the very near future, as he is by far the most explosive option on the roster at the RB position right now.
4. Moch momentum – Dontay Moch hasn’t been on the roster very long after being elevated from the practice squad, but the former Hamilton High star made his presence felt Sunday. Moch had a huge sack on a key third down for the Bucs. In fact, Moch almost gave the Cardinals a lead, as the sack happened just outside the Tampa Bay goal line. On the day, Moch had two total tackles and two hits on Glennon. The Cardinals are always preaching “next man up,” meaning when someone goes down with injury, those who step in need to step up. Moch did just that in his first opportunity Sunday.
5. What is Greg Schiano doing? – Many questioned Schiano’s decision to bench Josh Freeman and go with Glennon so early in the season, but early on it looked like the right move. But as the game wore on, Glennon looked less and less comfortable in the pocket, completing just 9-of-19 passes in the second half for 78 yards and two picks. But Schiano had many scratching their heads when it came to late-game play calling. On a 2nd-and-6 from their own 11-yard line and holding a 10-3 with under four minutes to play, the Bucs went with a pass play, and Glennon was picked off by Patrick Peterson, who brought it back to the Tampa Bay 13-yard line. One play later, Palmer hit Fitzgerald for the game-tying touchdown. Curious, curious stuff right there.
6. Flashbacks aren’t fun – For three quarters (and for most of last week’s game), the Cardinals looked exactly like the putrid 2012 version of the team — good defensive play mixed with inept offense. The Cardinals looked hesitant to take shots down the field (especially in the first half) and Palmer looked very content to throw short dump-offs to running backs.
Thankfully the scheme and the aggressiveness level changed in the second half, with more downfield throws from Palmer. The veteran had 190 of his 248 passing yards in the second half.
It doesn’t matter how ugly it was, a win is a win in the National Football League, and the Cardinals will take it heading home to host the Carolina Panthers in Glendale next Sunday.