But without their return to the field – Breaston for the first time since Sept. 26, Hayes for the first time since the playoff game against Green Bay last season – the Cards never would have been as close as they were.
Hayes’ 21-yard fumble return for a touchdown, after fellow linebacker
And Breaston simply had a career day, gaining his all-time best 147 yards on eight receptions, including a 14-yarder that looked like it set up at least a game-tying field goal late in the fourth quarter.
“It was right there and I was around the ball and make something happen,” Hayes said. “I was just thinking about helping my team, giving momentum and our best chance to win the game. At the end of the day, though, we lost.”
Breaston has emerged as an offensive force when healthy, posting his second 100-yard receiving day in just his fourth game of the season.
“I always expect to be a big part of things,” Breaston said. “I fight hard. I consider myself a playmaker on this team. Anytime I go into the game, I expect when I get the ball to make the best out of it.”
By the end of the game, however, Wells was nursing a sore back after being upended on a run, and he gained 50 yards on 16 attempts.
“It felt good,” Wells said. “But I couldn’t get a break later on in the game.
“I think I just need to run a bit lower. On a couple of the runs I had, I don’t think I missed very many holes, but I just need to run a little lower.”
Wells was not in the game at the end when quarterback
“I thought we’d have more success running the football today,” Whisenhunt said. “But when you have two turnovers and get down, it gets you a little bit out of your plan.”
The Cardinals were trailing, 21-14, late in the second quarter when they faced a fourth-and-2 on the Tampa 3-yard line. Whisenhunt decided to go for it, passing on three points. Anderson’s pass actually tipped off the helmet of guard
The Buccaneers ended up driving the ball 94 yards for a field goal right before halftime.
“We had Steve open on the slant and thought that’s where we went with it,” Whisenhunt said. “I thought worst-case scenario we’d have them inside the 2 and stop them and get it back. Our defense has been very good down there this year, especially with the noise with the crowd.
“That was the thinking there. I thought it was a pretty safe bet at that time.”
Rookie linebacker O’Brien Schofield, who blew out his knee in mid-January, made his NFL debut Sunday playing special teams.
“It felt good,” Schofield said. “The first play I was on kickoff return and I got knocked on my butt. I was like, ‘Oh my goodness.’ But after that I honed in. The speed was totally different than practice.”
Schofield didn’t get any defensive snaps. “It was a tight game,” he said. “I wasn’t expecting them to throw me out there, but they probably would have been biting their fingernails. Hopefully, next time, they will have more faith in me as I get more practice.”