Buccaneers Topple Cardinals in Last-Second Victory

Dan Neil

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers defeated the Arizona Cardinals in Tampa Bay by a score of 30-27, with the game going all the way down to the waning seconds before being decided. It was a thriller to be sure, but was also littered with mistakes, penalties, and bewildering decision making by both coaches (and quarterbacks).

The first half was an oft-bewildering affair, with penalties and mistakes galore as both teams worked their way into a rhythm. The Cardinals scored first after 2nd round pick Byron Murphy Jr. picked off Jameis Winston, though they had to settle for a field goal after an uncharacteristic overthrow by Kyler Murray. The Arizona defense looked close to forcing a three-and-out on 3rd and 15 until a short pass to Ronald Jones II turned into a gashing 17-yard gain (his first of two 17-yard gains on third and long on that drive). Ronald Jones II capped off their first drive with a rushing touchdown, giving the Bucs the lead, 7-3.

The Cardinals' offensive line was beset with penalties the next drive, leading to a long field goal attempt (the longest of Zane Gonzalez' career at 54 yards). Jameis Winston led the home-team offense to a field goal to take their lead to 10-6.

The next drive was where the stakes were raised. It began with a 32-yard run by Kyler Murray to open up the Bucs' defense, who had allowed less than 15 total rushing yards to that point. On 4th-and-5 at midfield, Kliff Kingsbury dialed his offense up to 11. The legendary Larry Fitzgerald hauled in a first down catch in an amazing effort to keep the drive alive, allowing Kyler Murray to complete the drive with a 33-yard touchdown pass to Christian Kirk. The Cardinals took the lead, 13-10, with around a minute remaining in the half.

For a team lead by a savvy coach such as Bruce Arians, however, around a minute can seem an eternity. Jameis Winston led a 7-play drive which was capped off by a touchdown pass to Tampa Bay's tight end OJ Howard, giving the Buccaneers the lead 17-13 going into half.

The second half opened with a huge missed opportunity for Arizona. After a 51-yard pass to Andy Isabella, tight end Maxx Williams dropped a huge pass on 4th-and-1 (which likely would have been a touchdown), giving Jameis Winston the ball near midfield. He quickly drove down but came up short on 3rd down inside the Cardinals' 40, settling for a field goal and a 20-13 lead.

Arizona struck back almost immediately, with Kyler Murray throwing a dime which Christian Kirk turned into a 69-yard reception for a score. One made extra point later, the game was even at 20.

The visiting team suffered an injury scare when Patrick Peterson was chipped by an opponent and came off the field, indicating one of his ankles was hurt (he was playing very well this game, for the most part). However, it proved to be nothing substantial, and Peterson returned a few plays later after a crucial holding penalty erased a huge play by Buccaneers wide receiver Chris Godwin. One huge pass breakup and a short run on 3rd-and-18 later, and Tampa Bay punted into Arizona's waiting arms as they sought to take hold of the game's momentum late in the 3rd quarter.

However, the next drive proved fruitless, and a Keesean Johnson drop on 3rd-and-10 stalled them out and forced them to punt the ball right back. The game seemed to be in anyone's hands, with neither team fully taking control despite each having worked into a rhythm.

Winston's next drive seemed doomed from the start. A 3-yard loss from a stuffed run on first down followed by a holding penalty which erased positive yardage led to a key third down- but it was a disaster for Tampa Bay, as safety Budda Baker tipped the ball and linebacker Jordan Hicks came down with it, giving Arizona the ball at the 20-yard line (Winston's 2nd pick of the day, and Arizona's first game with multiple interceptions this season).However, they, too, squandered an opportunity when star linebacker Lavonte David ripped the ball from David Johnson's arms and recovered it at the 11-yard line. This was the first time anyone on the Arizona's roster had lost a fumble this entire season, an anomaly which could never have lasted forever. Despite the defense handing the Cardinals' offense the chance to take command of the afternoon, the game was still up for grabs at 20-20 at the end of the 3rd quarter.

The Buccaneers got some momentum going on their drive, with a huge run by Jameis Winston to kick things off and a huge pickup on 2nd-and-15 to put them into Cardinals territory. Winston and the Tampa Bay offense marched, overcoming an Arizona defense desperate to make a play (including a huge sack by Chandler Jones and Rodney Gunter) and penalties on their way to a field goal attempt to take the lead. Kicker Robbie Gould missed the first attempt, but was given a mulligan and an extra 5 yards by an offsides call, and naturally drilled it to go up 23-20 with just under 10 minutes remaining in the game.

Arizona's next drive was beyond wild. On 4th-and-10, Arizona's punter Andy Lee converted on a perfectly thrown 26-yard pass to wide receiver Pharoh Cooper (I screamed in disbelief when it happened), followed by a defensive pass interference call which put Arizona in perfect position to take the lead with Kyler Murray's third touchdown throw to Christian Kirk, giving them a 27-23 lead with 7:22 remaining in the 4th quarter.

The pressure was now on Jameis Winston and company to respond. Down by 4 with plenty of time left for a good, long drive, the Bucs went for a long ball- and again Patrick Peterson was slow to get up and seemed to be nursing an injury after laying out for an interception just beyond his reach. This time he had a slight limp as he walked off the field, and without their best defender, the Cardinals now had to make a play to stop Jameis and the Buccaneers. Instead, Ronald Jones II coughed up the football with no provocation (he looked to be trying to secure it when it slipped out), and Budda Baker recovered it at midfield. For the first time this season, Arizona generated three turnovers.

Bruce Arians then displayed an as-per-the-usual contemptuous attitude toward NFL officiating, throwing a challenge flag to dispute whether a play was a Kyler Murray incomplete pass or sack for 12 yards- resulting in him losing a timeout, as he'd already lost two prior challenges and had none left when he threw the flag. Kyler Murray connected with Larry Fitzgerald two plays later for a huge first down, again putting the Cardinals in the Red Zone with under four minutes to play. 

Here disaster struck this time for the Cardinals, as an errant Kyler Murray throw was intercepted, giving Jameis Winston another chance. He and Chris Godwin immediately sparked the Buccaneers offense to life with a 41-yard pass, and a pass interference penalty on Byron Murphy Jr. on the next play put Tampa Bay at the 27-yard line. The Buccaneers marched down the field, moving the ball at will as time dwindled down in the last period of the game. With 2:00 left to play, Tampa Bay found themselves with a 2nd and 10 at the Arizona 13-yard line.

As is almost always the case with Arizona football these days, it all came down to these final few plays. A defensive pass interference penalty put the ball at the 1-yard line on the next down, giving Tampa Bay every opportunity to score and take the lead late in the game. Rodney Gunter came off the field with an injury after an incomplete pass, and on the following play Arizona stuffed Tampa Bay's Ronald Jones at the 1-yard line to bring up 3rd-and-goal at the 1.

There was not to be a goalline stand, however, as Peyton Barber, who had been stuffed by the Cardinals defense all day, scampered into the end zone to give his team the lead late. A Robbie Gould extra point brought it to 30-27 Bucs with 1:43 to go in the game. 

But this is where Kyler Murray has often showed some of his best work, and he took the field with total confidence. Looking for the 3rd game-winning drive of his young career, Murray was aided on 4th-and-5 by a pass interference penalty which kept Arizona's hopes alive. With the ball at the 48 yard line and 26 seconds left, Arizona was called for holding, further complicating their efforts to storm back. 

With :18 seconds and a timeout left, Kyler Murray couldn't get anything going. His last two throws fell incomplete, ending the game 27-30 in a victory for the Buccaneers.

It was a frustrating and often baffling game for Arizona, who squandered many opportunities- but also had many bright spots and made quite a few plays. This is a game the Cardinals may not have been in last year, and to keep it as close as it was and have chances to win all the way to the clock's final stroke, is impressive. Give Kyler Murray and the Cardinals credit for fighting all the way through in a tough road loss.

This drops the Arizona Cardinals down to 3-6-1, good for fourth in the division and almost eliminated from playoff contention barring interference from the football gods. The Buccaneers, meanwhile, improve to 3-6, and while Jameis Winston's two turnovers today might not improve his chances of staying with the team long-term, there were positives for him to take away as well.

The Cardinals will next face the 49ers in San Francisco, who they also lost to by 3 points on Thursday Night Football last week; this matchup may be a different story, depending on how Monday Night Football turns out between the Seahawks and 49ers. The Buccaneers, meanwhile, face a much more difficult test in the New Orleans Saints in the Superdome.

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