The Tampa Bay Buccaneers' defense started it, and the offense added the finishing touches Sunday at University of Phoenix Stadium.
For one half, at least. The Buccaneers still need to protect a 24-14 lead over the Arizona Cardinals for two more quarters to improve their record in 2010 to 5-2 and extend their four-game road winning streak.
LB Geno Hayes and CB Aqib Talib each scored on passes picked off Cardinals rookie QB Max Hall, who was pulled in the second quarter in favor of veteran Derek Anderson. The Buccaneers' defense also executed a goal-line stand late in the half, giving the offense enough time to tack on a 94-yard field goal drive just before intermission. The Bucs' other points came on a 47-yard touchdown catch by rookie WR Mike Williams.
Freeman completed nine of 15 passes for 162 yards, one touchdown, no interceptions and a 119.3 passer rating in the first half. Williams caught three passes for 83 yards and WR Micheal Spurlock had two big grabs for 49 yards on the long field goal drive.
Hall did give the Cardinals an early lead with his three-yard touchdown pass to WR Mike Fitzgerald, and a fumbled punt by WR Sammie Stroughter gave the home team a short field to produce Beanie Wells' one-yard touchdown run. The Bucs, down 14-7, then scored the next 17 points.
The second-half surge by the Bucs' offense allowed them to even up the total yardage in the half, actually taking a 184-174 lead. Most of the Bucs' offense came through the air, as the ground game produced just 22 yards.
Arizona won the toss and elected to receive, taking the opening kickoff out to the 25. Wells found a big hole on the first play of scrimmage and ran for 14 yards. The Cardinals tried an end-around with scatback LaRod Stephens-Howling on first down but Hayes stopped him for no gain. Two plays later, on third-and-seven, Talib nearly picked off a sideline pass but the play was erased by Kyle Moore's offside penalty. The Cardinals almost converted the third-and-two on a short out to Wells, but the back bobbled the ball as he went out of bounds. Arizona challenged the call but it was upheld. Micheal Spurlock fair caught the game's first punt at the Tampa Bay 12.
Cadillac Williams got the carry on first down but was swarmed over in the backfield for a loss of two. Freeman's first pass was batted down at the line, leading to a third-and-12, and a short pass over the middle to Mike Williams was well short of the first down. Robert Malone's punt for the Buccaneers bounced out of bounds at the Arizona 39.
A deep ball to Fitzgerald on first down had a shot to work but was overthrown by Hall. On third-and-six, Hall let a wheel route to Wells develop and the back was eventually wide open for a 14-yard gain to the Bucs' 43. Two plays later, Hall fit the ball into a window between Hays and Talib and Fitzgerald caught it at the Bucs' 26 for a gain of 17. A Steve Breaston end-around gained 14 more and set the Cardinals up with a first-and-goal at the six. Two plays later, Hall faked a handoff to Wells and threw to Fitzgerald in the back of the end zone for the game's first touchdown.
A holding penalty on the ensuing kickoff return once again backed the Bucs up to their own 10. An incompletion and a two-yard run up the gut left the Bucs in a third-and-eight, and a screen pass to Cadillac Williams came up two yards short.
After the punt, the Cardinals started at their own 40 but had a disastrous series. First, Hall was tackled in the backfield by Hayes for a loss of five on what was ruled a running play. On the next snap, blitzing S Sean Jones hit Hall as he threw and the pass was intercepted in the left flat by Hayes, who went 41 yards untouched for the game-tying score.
The Bucs' defense stayed hot on the ensuing possession, first stopping Wells for a total of three yards on two carries, then chasing Hall to the sideline and forcing a throwaway on third-and-seven. The series that followed for Tampa Bay wasn't much better; despite getting five yards on an offside call against the Cardinals the Bucs went three-and-out. Mike Williams dropped a potential first-down catch on a third-and-four throw from the Bucs' 36.
The Cardinals' next drive started at their own 23 and brought the first quarter to an end on a three-yard run by Wells. More pressure from the Bucs' front line forced another scrambling throw-away by Hall and a third-and-seven play, but Hall moved the chains with a quick 10-yard out to Fitzgerald. After a Cardinals timeout, Quincy Black trapped Wells for a loss of one, and then Barrett Ruud held Wells to a three-yard gain on second down. A delay of game penalty made it third-and-13, and the Bucs defended a deep pass to Breaston very well. However, Sammie Stroughter fumbled away the ensuing punt return and Arizona got the ball back at the Bucs' 16. Two quick plays got the ball down to the Bucs' three, and Wells pounded it down to the one. On second-and-goal, the Cardinals brought in a huge lineup and got Wells enough push for him to leap over the top and into the end zone.
The Bucs started again at their own 20 after a touchback and got 31 yards right away on a perfect play-action rollout pass to Mike Williams. A dumpoff pass to Blount gained two yards, and then Freeman faked a handoff to the big back on second down and threw to Williams again on a deep post. Williams had a step on his defender and the ball found him in stride for a 47-yard score.
The Cardinals gained one first down on their next possession, with Hall converting a third-and-seven with a 12-yard strike over the middle to Breaston. But on the next play Hall tried to hit Breaston deep down the right sideline and Talib got to it first for a leaping interception. Talib took the ball back 45 yards for a touchdown, eluding Hall inside the 10 with a nice jump-cut. The Bucs did get flagged for unsportsmanlike conduct on the ensuing celebration, forcing them to kick off from the 20.
Stephens-Howling found a lane again on the return and got all the way back to the Arizona 45. Wells immediately ripped off an 11-yard run to get into Bucs territory. With Anderson in at quarterback, the Cardinals tried a deep ball to Breaston and the receiver made a spectacular catch at the Bucs' 11 despite good coverage from Talib. The Bucs challenged the call but it was upheld. After the break, Wells tried the middle but was caught by Gerald McCoy after a gain of four. Another run and a short pass made it fourth-and-two at the three and the Cards elected to go for it. Anderson's pass deflected off an offensive lineman's helmet and was nearly caught by Breaston in the back of the end zone but the receiver couldn't hold on.
The Bucs thus took over on downs at their own three. Runs by Earnest Graham and Blount got two yards each as the two-minute warning arrived. The Bucs trusted Blount on third-and-six and he cut inside right tackle for a gain of seven. The Bucs tried to make something out of the extended drive, hitting WR Micheal Spurlock on a quick slant for a gain of 20. A dropped pass by Cadillac Williams stopped the clock with 51 seconds left in the half and the ball at the Bucs' 34. A fade stop by Spurlock was good for 29 yards to the Cardinals' 37, and another incompletion stopped the clock with 40 seconds left. Veteran S Adrian Wilson picked off Freeman's next pass but the turnover was erased when Wilson was flagged for pass interference. From the Cardinals' 35, Winslow ran an out and caught a quick pass for five yards, getting out of bounds with 28 seconds left. A draw play to Cadillac Williams was a good call, gaining 10 yards to the 20, with the Bucs using their second timeout. Freeman then found Williams on a short pass that the back took all the way down to the three. After a fade attempt to Maurice Stovall failed, the Bucs used the last five seconds for Connor Barth's 21-yard field goal.