TAMPA, Fla. – The Cardinals were absolute plunderers and thieves on Sunday. The only problem was they kept ransacking their own booty and stealing from themselves during a blundering, 30-27 loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Seriously, it was so bad, the Cardinals should have just spent their time in that giant pirate ship in the northeast corner of the end zone at Raymond James Stadium than wasting it on the actual field.
“That’s what separates the really good teams from the average teams,” coach Kliff Kingsbury said, “and we had a bunch of those mistakes to make you an average team. … It’s tough. Things just keep showing up that we’ve got to do better as a team because the effort is outstanding, but we’re hurting ourselves.”
The Cardinals (3-6-1) did more than enough to beat former coach Bruce Arians and the Buccaneers (3-6), who snapped their four-game losing skid.
Rookie quarterback Kyler Murray threw for 324 yards and three touchdowns. Christian Kirk caught three touchdowns. The Arizona defense forced three turnovers, intercepting Jameis Winston twice. Chandler Jones had two more sacks and has now forced a career-high five fumbles, one shy of a franchise record.
But every time the Cardinals did something fascinating or well, it was as if they redirected one of those cannons from the pirate ship and shot themselves in the foot. Over and over and over again.
“Yeah, we were beating ourselves,” said Kirk, who finished with six receptions for a game-high 138, which included touchdown catches that went for 33, 69 and 15 yards. “Obviously, that’s a good football team and they’ve got a high-powered offense and their defensive front is one of the top defensive fronts in the NFL.
“But there’s so many things in that game we can look at where we could have been better that probably would have put us in a better position to win.”
That’s putting it nicely. The Cardinals were in perfect position to win after Kirk caught his third touchdown to give Arizona a 27-23 lead with 7:21 left to play. Kingsbury gambled earlier on fourth down, calling for a fake punt that Andy Lee executed brilliantly, as his 26-yard completion to Pharoh Cooper extended the drive.
But then cornerback Patrick Peterson went down with a calf injury and he wasn’t able to return, which would haunt them later. Tampa running back Ronald Jones fumbled the ball away and Budda Baker managed to recover it for the Cardinals. But six plays later, Murray threw his first interception in six weeks. It was a short pass to Trent Sherfield on second-and-10 from Tampa Bay’s 15-yard line, but Jamel Dean wanted it more and took it away.
“I saw it was cut split, so I kind of figured he only had one route,” Dean said. “Once I saw him start taking off, I just beat him over there.”
Sherfield declined comment after the game, even though this loss wasn’t on him by any means.
Rookie safety Jalen Thompson, on the other hand, is a different story. The Buccaneers took over at their own 8 with 3:41 remaining and on first down, Chris Godwin beat Thompson deep down the right sideline and Winston found him for a huge 49-yard pass play.
Winston didn’t have to do a whole lot more to complete a game-winning, 92-yard drive because rookie cornerback Byron Murphy was hit with a costly pass-interference penalty on Mike Evans and Thompson also got nailed for interfering with Evans after a booth review just inside the two-minute warning that gave the Buccaneers an automatic first down at the 1-yard line.
Maybe the calls wouldn’t have happened if Peterson were still in the game. He was shadowing Evans the whole time, after all, until getting hurt. Either way, Kingsbury wasn’t pleased with the two penalties, especially the last one.
“I was (surprised), he said. “They didn’t call it here, so to call it from New York … the explanation I got was (Thompson) he fell into the back of his legs, so that’s a tough one.”
After being stopped short on a leaping attempt into the end zone, Peyton Barber popped it outside from the same formation and waltzed in for the go-ahead score with 1:43 left on the clock. The Cardinals were down to one timeout after being forced to take an injury timeout for Rodney Gunter, but they still had time to make enough play to move down the field, kick a field goal and at least force overtime.
Murray, though, was surprisingly too slow getting everyone lined up perfectly on the last fateful drive. The Cardinals were fortunate to be on the receiving end of their own pass-interference flag, but Murray let too much time expire between plays, scrambled around one time too many, and his last-ditch deep throw to Cooper was incomplete as the clock ran out.
“We didn’t have the sense or urgency we probably (needed),” Kingsbury said. “I think he was trying to get us in the perfect call there and we just have to have a better feel for what the clock is running.”
It ran out on the Cardinals simply because they ruined their own chances and now they’ve lost three consecutive games after winning three in a row. They had 11 penalties for 87 yards, all of which seemed to hurt at crucial junctures.
One was an offsides call on Peterson for lining up in the neutral zone on a field-goal attempt the Buccaneers missed. The flag, though, let Matt Gay try again from 5 yards closer and he made it to put Tampa ahead, 23-20.
The Cardinals also followed big stops with some awful matador-style tackling. They had coverage issues, such as forgetting to cover a wide-open tight end O.J. Howard on his 10-yard touchdown. And they dropped passes, like Maxx Williams’ costly juggle on fourth-and-2, in which he apparently lost it in the afternoon sun.
“Yeah, we’ve just got to be better, take pride in what you do,” said Kyler Murray, who completed 27 of 44 passes and ran for a team-high 38 yards on three carries. “We’ve all got to be better. That’s pretty much it.”
This game was there for the Cardinals to take. Instead, they helped give it away to Arians and make a winner out of Winston, who has been intercepted (14) and sacked more times than anyone this season.
“One thing about Jameis I love is he goes to the next play,” Arians said. “Whatever happens – good, bad, ugly – he goes to the next play. He’s really become a really good pro that way – water off his back.”
Have an opinion on the Arizona Cardinals? Reach McManaman at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @azbobbymac. Listen to him live on Fox Sports 910-AM every Tuesday afternoon at 3:30 on Calling All Sports with Roc and Manuch and every Wednesday night from 7-9 on The Freaks with Kenny and Crash.
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