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Bucs Comeback Falls Short in Arizona

Posted Oct 15, 2017

Despite a second-half rally behind reserve QB Ryan Fitzpatrick, filling in for an injured Jameis Winston, the Bucs couldn't overcome a brutal first half, falling 38-33 to the Cardinals on Sunday.

Just when it looked like the they might wilt in the desert for a second straight year, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers put together one of the most remarkable comeback attempts in franchise history.

Despite scoring 33 of the game's final 40 points, the Buccaneers lost to the Arizona Cardinals, 38-33, on Sunday at University of Phoenix Stadium. The comeback attempt, led by reserve quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick after a second-quarter injury to Jameis Winston, including a 27-point fourth period, the highest-scoring quarter ever for the Buccaneers. It wasn't enough to rally past a 24-0 halftime deficit that became 31-0 early in the third quarter.

"That was terrible," said linebacker Lavonte David, who helped in the comeback attempt with a fumble return for a touchdown. "The game never should have started like that in the first place. We came out flat. We should have never come out like that; we know what we're capable of doing. We came out in the second half and put up 33 points, but we shouldn't have come out like that to start the game. We're professionals, we play football for a living and we should come out ready to play every time we step on the field. We didn't do that today."

READ: BUCS FALL TO CARDINALS IN WEEK 6

The loss dropped the Buccaneers to 2-3 and left them with an 0-2 mark on the road in 2017. Tampa Bay remains away from home next week with a game at Buffalo.

Winston didn't return after injuring his throwing shoulder early in the second period. He was later seen warming up on the sideline in the second half, but Fitzpatrick finished the game. It marked the first time in Winston's career that he left a game due to injury, and he finished the game with five completions in 10 attempts for 61 yards. Fitzpatrick completed 22 of 32 passes for 290 yards, three touchdowns and two interceptions. His 37-yard touchdown pass to Mike Evans pulled the Bucs within five points but the subsequent onside kick attempt failed and the Cardinals kneeled twice to run out the last two minutes.

"After we scored our [second] touchdown and the defense scored their touchdown, there was some real belief on the sideline," said Fitzpatrick. "We just didn't get it done."

As it turned out, a trade made by the Cardinals on Tuesday helped ruin the Buccaneers' weekend. Running back Adrian Peterson, acquired from the Saints to shore up a Cardinals rushing attack that was stagnant without the injured David Johnson, ran for 134 yards and two touchdowns on 26 carries. The Cardinals brought the NFL's worst rushing attack into the contest, with an average of 51.8 yards per game. Peterson had more than that on the game's opening drive, which he capped with a 27-yard breakaway touchdown.

Peterson also scored in the fourth quarter on a one-yard run after a Tramon Williams interception at the Bucs' one-yard line. That one-yard drive was the Cardinals' only score after they went up 31-0 three minutes into the second half, and it proved to be the decisive points.

"I got baited into [that interception]," said Fitzpatrick. "It was a good defensive call and a poor read by me. There were a lot of plays in this game, even when we were down 31-0, there were a lot of plays [we could have made]. I had a couple picks, we had some things that didn't go our way, the touchdown at the end of the first half that we didn't get when we were down there. There were a lot of stuff you can point to; we just didn't come ready to play."

Peterson's early success also opened up the field for veteran quarterback Carson Palmer, who completed 18 of 22 passes for 283 yards, three touchdowns and one interception. He completed his first 14 passes and connected on scoring throws to TE Troy Niklas, WR Jaron Brown and WR Larry Fitzgerald. Fitzgerald racked up 138 yards on 10 catches, though he did have a fumble in the fourth quarter that led to eight points for the Buccaneers. Palmer had absorbed a league-high 19 sacks through Arizona's first five games but the Buccaneers had difficulty getting to him, sacking him just twice.

WATCH: BUCS TAILGATERS IN ARIZONA

The Cardinals finished the game with 432 yards of net offense compared to Tampa Bay's 414. Until the fourth quarter, the Buccaneers had difficulty getting several of their key weapons into the mix. Evans recorded his first catch of the game five minutes into the second half, though he ended up with 95 yards on five grabs. Running back Doug Martin, in just his second game back from a suspension, found little room to run and was held to 53 yards, much of it on a 27-yard run in the third quarter. Martin did score on a one-yard plunge on fourth-and-goal with three minutes left in the game.

The Buccaneers had hoped for a better showing on their second 2017 road trip after suffering a 34-17 loss at Minnesota in Week Three. Instead, the game started out as a repeat of last year's visit to University of Phoenix Stadium, which Arizona won 40-7 in a blizzard of big plays. This time, however, the Buccaneers fought to the end and kept the final outcome somewhat in doubt into the fourth quarter.

Despite being down 24-0 at halftime and 31-0 in the third quarter, the Bucs rallied for 20 unanswered points, pulling to within 11 with 12 minutes left. Fitzpatrick threw touchdown passes to DeSean Jackson and Cameron Brate and Lavonte David forced and recovered a Fitzgerald fumble, returning it 22 yards for his third career touchdown.

However, a big third-down conversion by the Cardinals on a 31-yard catch by Jaron Brown, with Gerald McCoy arriving at the quarterback just a split-second too late, allowed the Cardinals to drain nearly five minutes off the clock and eventually punt the ball down to the Bucs' one-yard line. Fitzgerald's next pass was intercepted by Williams at the Bucs' one-yard line. Peterson scored on the next play to make it an 18-point game with seven minutes to play.

McCoy had one of the Bucs' two sacks of Palmer, with fellow defensive tackle Clinton McDonald getting the other one. CB Brent Grimes secured his first interception of the season in the third quarter, which was also Palmer's first incompletion.

The Cardinals drew immediately blood with their new back, as Peterson carried four times for 54 yards on the game's opening drive, capped by a 27-yard blast up the middle. All four of Peterson's totes on the drive gained at least eight yards.

The Bucs' first drive got a first down on a 15-yard third-down catch by Brate but it stalled near midfield, leading to a punt down to the Arizona 14. Unfortunately, the Cardinals had no problem once again driving the length of the field, this time sparked by a 27-yard Palmer completion over the middle to Fitzgerald on third-and-five. Peterson later added runs of six and 17 and Palmer finished it with a 14-yard strike over the middle to Niklas.

The Bucs got over midfield again on catches by Howard and Brate but once again had to punt, this one fair caught at the Arizona five. Tampa Bay's defense appeared to get its first stop on a third-down incompletion but an offsides call kept the drive alive and it took only three more plays to get the Cardinals back into the end zone. Palmer hit Jaron Brown over the middle for 30 yards on third-and-one and then went to Fitzgerald for gains of 26 and 11, the second an easy TD over the middle.

After a Buccaneer three-and-out that included the play that knocked Winston from the game, Arizona mounted its fourth consecutive scoring drive. Fitzgerald caught two more passes for 37 yards and also drew a third-down pass interference penalty that made it first-and-goal at the one. The Bucs nearly got the ball back on a fumbled snap but the Cardinals emerged from the pile with the ball. A tackle for loss on Peterson by rookie S Justin Evans and a sack by McDonald limited the damage to three points.

With Fitzpatrick in to relieve Winston, the Buccaneers got to midfield again thanks to a nine-yard catch by Brate that converted a third-and-six. Fitzpatrick converted a subsequent third-and-eight with a nine-yard sideline strike to rookie WR Chris Godwin but misfired on a deep throw to DeSean Jackson. The veteran passer than avoided a sure sack with a last-second flip to Charles Sims, setting up a fourth-and-four that he converted with a downfield throw to Brate for 21 yards. Down by 24 as the first half wound to a close, the Bucs chose to go for it on fourth-and-goal and Evans broke open along the goal line but the pass was a bit behind him and broken up by Patrick Peterson.

Two plays into the second half Fitzpatrick took another deep shot in Jackson's direction but the pass was intercepted by cornerback Justin Bethel. Bethel nabbed the pass at the Cardinals' 46 and returned it 21 yards to the Bucs' 17. The led to a 17-yard touchdown pass from Palmer to John Brown.

The Buccaneers responded with a lengthy drive keyed by a 27-yard catch-and-run from Jackson down the middle of the field. A 17-yard strike to Evans converted a third-and-12 in Cardinals territory and Martin ripped off a 27-yard run on the next play. On third-and-goal from the four, Fitzpatrick zipped a quick slant to Jackson, who held on as he crossed the goal line. The Bucs went for two and failed.

Tampa Bay's defense came up with its first takeaway on the Cardinals' next drive, with Brent Grimes intercepting a deep pass intended for J.J. Nelson. Grimes returned the pick 38 yards into Cardinals territory but a holding penalty erased a first-down run by Martin and Fitzpatrick was sacked by Chandler Jones on the next play, forcing a punt.

A sack by Gerald McCoy and a third-down pass break-up by Chris Conte led to the Cardinals' first punt of the game near the end of the third quarter. Fitzpatrick started the ensuing drive by scrambling up the middle for 10 yards to the Bucs' 47. Two plays later, he hooked up with Evans on a deep post for a gain of 41 yards to the Arizona 10, bringing the third quarter to a close. Three plays into the fourth quarter, on third-and-goal from the 10, Fitzpatrick found Brate in the back of the end zone for a touchdown. The two-point try failed again, leaving the score at 31-12 with 13:32 to play.

On the Cardinals' next official play, after a penalty erased a long run by Peterson, David forced a fumble by Fitzgerald on a short pass. David also hustled to the loose ball, picked up at the 22 and ran into the end zone for a touchdown. The play was reviewed but upheld, and Martin ran up the middle to successfully convert a two-point try, making it 31-20 with 13 minutes to play.

The Bucs would get no closer, as the Cardinals drove into Tampa Bay territory and eventually punted down to the one-yard line. Fitzpatrick tried to hit Evans on a quick curl but Williams jumped the route and got to the ball first, holding on as Evans tried to rip it away. Peterson ran it in on first-and-goal from the one to put the game out of reach.

The Buccaneers did follow with a long touchdown drive, ending in Martin's one-yard run up the middle on fourth-and-goal. RB Charles Sims had the long gain of the drive, a 25-yard scamper up the sideline on a short swing pass.