DAN BICKLEY

Bruce Arians gets last laugh as Cardinals gift game to Buccaneers

Nov 10, 2019, 3:54 PM | Updated: Nov 11, 2019, 11:28 am
TAMPA, FL - NOVEMBER 10: Head coach Kliff Kingsbury of the Arizona Cardinals talks with head coach ...
TAMPA, FL - NOVEMBER 10: Head coach Kliff Kingsbury of the Arizona Cardinals talks with head coach Bruce Arians of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers before the game at Raymond James Stadium on November 10, 2019 in Tampa, Florida. (Photo by Will Vragovic/Getty Images)
(Photo by Will Vragovic/Getty Images)

Arizona was very good to Bruce Arians. The Cardinals gave him one final present on Sunday.

They coughed up a fourth-quarter lead and a chance to trump their former coach. They wasted three touchdowns from Christian Kirk, vintage moments from Larry Fitzgerald, an NFL record for Kyler Murray and squandered Maxx Williams’ only real chance for atonement.

They suffered their most agonizing defeat of the season:  A day when the Florida sun was as bright as Arizona’s future, only to have the final score burn the Cardinals to their core:

Arians 1, Arizona 0.

Nothing against Arians, a former civic treasure and one of the most entertaining head coaches in Valley history. But this game should’ve been a resounding victory and powerful validation for Kliff Kingsbury, who had a great game as risk-taker and play-caller, atoning for his own series of questionable calls in the previous two games.

Kingsbury rolled the dice thrice on fourth down, busting Williams free for a wide-open touchdown. Except his tight end could not catch the ball.

The gaffe was proof that fourth-down analytics are a failed strategy in the NFL. Computer algorithms can’t quantify the heat of the moment, where there is infinite space for human error. It will be a burden Williams will shoulder forever, especially without the cosmetic blessing of a victory.

Yet Kingsbury showed great compassion. He put Williams back in the game, where he would catch one more pass. He also called for a zany fake punt, with Andy Lee somehow completing a pass to a well-covered wide receiver.

Those moments will only build trust for the rookie head coach inside the locker room. As a player’s coach. A guy’s guy.

Apparently, Kingsbury has also learned his Fitzgerald lesson, that no game plan is good without him. It’s a very basic truth, but for some reason, incoming head coaches don’t always recognize Fitzgerald’s brand of greatness.

The harder he gets hit, the more energy he exudes. The more he is targeted in the passing game, the sooner the offense elevates. He always shines in the biggest moments. Like the acrobatic fourth-down reception in the first half that led to a Kirk touchdown, a play that represented why you get him the football at all costs.

There were Cardinals players who might’ve been harboring grudges against Arians entering Sunday’s game. D.J. Humphries doesn’t hide his resentment. David Johnson was always a verbal target and waited forever to earn his first game ball under Arians. Neither of those players distinguished themselves on Sunday, when it mattered, and it’s becoming torturous watching Johnson attempt to run the football.

Also:  Neither of them endured what Fitzgerald did during his early years under Arians, when the head coach moved a Hall of Famer to slot receiver, telling him to block and catch in traffic.

Fitzgerald made sure his greatness was still on display against the Buccaneers. These are the moments he lives for.

On the other sideline, Arians was starving for a victory. His Buccaneers were 2-6 entering Sunday’s game. He had his first four-game losing streak as NFL head coach. His new franchise hadn’t won a home game since Week 13 of 2018, and the attendance was spotty. And as the Cardinals were pulling away with a late victory, Arians was in line for an ugly loss to a 40-year old colleague, a man left to bark at officials after squandering two timeouts to the replay challenge process, sabotaging his own team.

Then it all changed.

Trent Sherfield slipped. Murray’s interception-less streak ended. The Cardinals defense folded for Arians just like it did in the Super Bowl, in the same stadium, when he was the offensive coordinator for the Steelers.

The officials got involved, too, but I will blow a gasket if I spend one more minute thinking about them.

Alas, there was no coming back once Tampa regained the lead. Defensive coordinator Todd Bowles showed why he’s one of the best closers in this business, ratcheting up the pressure on Murray, forcing the issue, saving the moment for his good friend Bruce. And so it ended on a brutal Sunday in Florida, when the Cardinals coughed up an impact statement, when lessons were served and justice was not.

Reach Bickley at dbickley@bonneville.com. Listen to Bickley & Marotta weekdays from 10 a.m. – 2 p.m. on 98.7 FM Arizona’s Sports Station.

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Life Changer Loans

Life Changer Loans
Arizona Cardinals wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald (11) hugs Tampa Bay Buccaneers head coach Bruce Arians after an NFL football game Sunday, Nov. 10, 2019, in Tampa, Fla. Arians is a former Cardinals head coach. (AP Photo/Mark LoMoglio) Arizona Cardinals wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald (11) shakes hands with Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Jameis Winston (3) after an NFL football game Sunday, Nov. 10, 2019, in Tampa, Fla. (AP Photo/Jason Behnken) Arizona Cardinals wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald (11) hugs Tampa Bay Buccaneers wide receiver Mike Evans after an NFL football game Sunday, Nov. 10, 2019, in Tampa, Fla. (AP Photo/Jason Behnken) Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Jameis Winston, left, talks to Arizona Cardinals quarterback Kyler Murray after an NFL football game Sunday, Nov. 10, 2019, in Tampa, Fla. (AP Photo/Jason Behnken) Tampa Bay Buccaneers running back Peyton Barber (25) celebrates his 1-yard touchdown against the Arizona Cardinals during the second half of an NFL football game Sunday, Nov. 10, 2019, in Tampa, Fla. (AP Photo/Mark LoMoglio) Tampa Bay Buccaneers running back Peyton Barber, right, celebrates his touchdown against the Arizona Cardinals with tight end Tanner Hudson (88) during the second half of an NFL football game Sunday, Nov. 10, 2019, in Tampa, Fla. (AP Photo/Mark LoMoglio) Tampa Bay Buccaneers running back Peyton Barber (25) slips a tackle by Arizona Cardinals linebacker Joe Walker (59) to score on a 1-yard touchdown run during the second half of an NFL football game Sunday, Nov. 10, 2019, in Tampa, Fla. (AP Photo/Mark LoMoglio) Tampa Bay Buccaneers running back Ronald Jones II (27) fumbles the football on a run against the Arizona Cardinals during the second half of an NFL football game Sunday, Nov. 10, 2019, in Tampa, Fla. (AP Photo/Mark LoMoglio) Arizona Cardinals wide receiver Pharoh Cooper (12) celebrates a first down after a catch against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers during the second half of an NFL football game Sunday, Nov. 10, 2019, in Tampa, Fla. (AP Photo/Jason Behnken) Arizona Cardinals wide receiver Christian Kirk (13) pulls in a 15-yard touchdown pass against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers during the second half of an NFL football game Sunday, Nov. 10, 2019, in Tampa, Fla. (AP Photo/Jason Behnken) Arizona Cardinals wide receiver Christian Kirk (13) pulls in a 15-yard touchdown reception against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers during the second half of an NFL football game Sunday, Nov. 10, 2019, in Tampa, Fla. (AP Photo/Jason Behnken) Tampa Bay Buccaneers defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul, let, has to be restrained by defensive tackle Rakeem Nunez-Roches (56) from getting to defensive tackle Vita Vea (50) after an Arizona Cardinals run during the second half of an NFL football game Sunday, Nov. 10, 2019, in Tampa, Fla. (AP Photo/Mark LoMoglio) Tampa Bay Buccaneers outside linebacker Lavonte David (54) strips the ball from Arizona Cardinals running back David Johnson (31) for a fumble during the second half of an NFL football game Sunday, Nov. 10, 2019, in Tampa, Fla. Tampa Bay recovered the fumble. (AP Photo/Jason Behnken) Arizona Cardinals middle linebacker Jordan Hicks (58) intercepts a pass intedended for Tampa Bay Buccaneers wide receiver Chris Godwin (12) during the second half of an NFL football game Sunday, Nov. 10, 2019, in Tampa, Fla. (AP Photo/Jason Behnken) Tampa Bay Buccaneers wide receiver Chris Godwin (12) outruns Arizona Cardinals defensive end Zach Kerr (92) after a catach during the second half of an NFL football game Sunday, Nov. 10, 2019, in Tampa, Fla. (AP Photo/Jason Behnken) Tampa Bay Buccaneers tight end O.J. Howard (80) scores past Arizona Cardinals cornerback Byron Murphy (33) on a 10-yard touchdown reception during the first half of an NFL football game Sunday, Nov. 10, 2019, in Tampa, Fla. (AP Photo/Jason Behnken) Tampa Bay Buccaneers tight end O.J. Howard (80) beats Arizona Cardinals outside linebacker Haason Reddick (43) on a 10-yard touchdown reception during the first half of an NFL football game Sunday, Nov. 10, 2019, in Tampa, Fla. (AP Photo/Jason Behnken) Tampa Bay Buccaneers tight end O.J. Howard (80) beats Arizona Cardinals outside linebacker Haason Reddick (43) on a 10-yard touchdown reception during the first half of an NFL football game Sunday, Nov. 10, 2019, in Tampa, Fla. (AP Photo/Jason Behnken) Arizona Cardinals wide receiver Christian Kirk (13) pulls in a 33-yard touchdown pass in front of Tampa Bay Buccaneers cornerback M.J. Stewart (36) during the first half of an NFL football game Sunday, Nov. 10, 2019, in Tampa, Fla. (AP Photo/Mark LoMoglio) Arizona Cardinals wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald (11) prepares to make a catch in front of Tampa Bay Buccaneers cornerback M.J. Stewart (36) during the first half of an NFL football game Sunday, Nov. 10, 2019, in Tampa, Fla. (AP Photo/Jason Behnken) Arizona Cardinals wide receiver Christian Kirk (13) pulls in a 33-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Kyler Murray during the first half of an NFL football game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers Sunday, Nov. 10, 2019, in Tampa, Fla. (AP Photo/Jason Behnken) Arizona Cardinals wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald (11) gets past Tampa Bay Buccaneers cornerback M.J. Stewart (36) after a reception during the first half of an NFL football game Sunday, Nov. 10, 2019, in Tampa, Fla. (AP Photo/Jason Behnken) Tampa Bay Buccaneers running back Ronald Jones II (27) celebrates his touchdown run against the Arizona Cardinals during the first half of an NFL football game Sunday, Nov. 10, 2019, in Tampa, Fla. (AP Photo/Jason Behnken) Tampa Bay Buccaneers running back Ronald Jones II (27) scores on a 7-yard touchdown run against the Arizona Cardinals during the first half of an NFL football game Sunday, Nov. 10, 2019, in Tampa, Fla. (AP Photo/Jason Behnken) Tampa Bay Buccaneers running back Ronald Jones II (27) reaches the ball across the goalline to score on a 7-yard touchdown run against the Arizona Cardinals during the first half of an NFL football game Sunday, Nov. 10, 2019, in Tampa, Fla. (AP Photo/Mark LoMoglio) Tampa Bay Buccaneers wide receiver Mike Evans (13) makes a leaping catch in front of Arizona Cardinals cornerback Patrick Peterson (21) during the first half of an NFL football game Sunday, Nov. 10, 2019, in Tampa, Fla. (AP Photo/Jason Behnken) Arizona Cardinals quarterback Kyler Murray (1) throws a pass against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers during the first half of an NFL football game Sunday, Nov. 10, 2019, in Tampa, Fla. (AP Photo/Jason Behnken) Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Jameis Winston (3) throws an interception against the Arizona Cardinals during the first half of an NFL football game Sunday, Nov. 10, 2019, in Tampa, Fla. (AP Photo/Chris O'Meara)

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