TAMPA — The Tampa Buccaneers defense had a lot to be proud of Sunday, but little to show for all that statistical success.
Arizona converted only one of 10 third-down opportunities and averaged a mere 5.0 yards in 59 snaps. Yet, when the final seconds ticked away, Tampa Bay was on the wrong end of a 13-10 decision as the Cardinals scored all of their points in the final 12 minutes.
“The great defenses, regardless of how well they play throughout the game, finish the game off,’’ said Bucs Pro Bowl defensive tackle Gerald McCoy, who sacked Carson Palmer for an 8-yard loss on the game’s first snap. “No excuses, we got put here, we got put there. I don’t care about field position. You want to be a great defense, you get stops when you need them.’’
The Cardinals did nothing offensively for two quarters, gaining 87 yards while registering three first downs. Arizona’s ground game was ineffective all afternoon, averaging 2.8 yards on 20 carries. The Bucs posted three takeaways.
“It was a dogfight,’’ said Palmer, who completed 21 of 38 pass attempts for 248 yards. “In the first half, we just couldn’t get it going. That is a very, very good defense and that’s a very good 0-4 football team. I haven’t played against a better one.’’
Rookie cornerback Johnthan Banks couldn’t even enjoy his first pro interception, a leaping grab late in the third quarter on Palmer’s pass intended for Michael Floyd in the left corner of the end zone.
“I want to win, I don’t care about stats,’’ Banks said. “If I could trade that pick for a win, I’d do it any day. It was a good defensive call and I put myself in a good position. Arizona did a great job converting after our turnovers.’’
Arizona trailed 10-0 until a fumbled handoff between Mike Glennon and Doug Martin led to a field goal.
Palmer’s game-tying scoring pass to Larry Fitzgerald was set up by Patrick Peterson’s interception return to the Tampa Bay 13.
The Cardinals had to move only 29 yards on their winning drive because the Bucs punted from their own end zone.
“It was a winning defensive performance, but we play as a team,’’ Bucs coach Greg Schiano said. “We’re all one, and that’s the way we’ll get through this tough stretch. It’s also the way we’ll win and win big here.’’
Only once in their 13 full possessions did the Cardinals post more than two first downs. Arizona’s average drive start was its own 36-yard line, compared to Tampa Bay’s average start on its 22.
McCoy, a defensive team captain, wasn’t interested in using Arizona’s short fields as an excuse. Instead, he was frustrated by yet another fourth-quarter lead that dissolved.
“We’ve had three opportunities out of four games to finish a game and we haven’t,’’ McCoy said. “Whatever position we are put in, we need to learn how to handle it, simple as that. There’s a lot of different things we can do better. Before we look at anybody else, we need to look in the mirror at ourselves.’’
The Cardinals rebounded from a 31-7 thrashing in New Orleans, evening their record at 2-2 on a day when their offense did just enough.
“In the second half, we moved the chains and started flopping field position,’’ Arizona coach Bruce Arians said. “With the turnovers, the defense kicked in and won the football game. Offensively, we did enough to win it.’’