Cardinals running back Adrian Peterson (23, kneeling) celebrates his first Arizona touchdown with teammates Larry Fitzgerald (11) and Jaron Brown (13) during the Cards' win Sunday.
It's always good to spend time on your craft, and Sunday is what happens when the Cardinals have All Day to play a game.
After arriving in a trade designed to boost not only the running game but the team's hopes for the rest of the season, Adrian Peterson did exactly what he had promised, turning the Cards' offense into something unseen in the previous five games.
The running back ripped off a 27-yard touchdown run on the game's opening drive, and the man nicknamed "All Day" finished with 134 yards rushing in a 38-33 win over the Buccaneers at University of Phoenix Stadium, electrifying both the crowd and his own team.
"You could feel it with the first drive," quarterback Carson Palmer said. "You could feel in with the fans in the stadium. You could see it on the defense's faces. Body language-wise, it was just a great lift for us."
It wasn't just the 32-old Peterson lighting up the stat sheet. The 37-year-old Palmer completed his first 14 passes and had three touchdown tosses, while 34-year-old wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald hauled in 10 catches for 138 yards and a score, plus one crucial onside kick recovery to ice the victory.
"Obviously," coach Bruce Arians said, "a day for old guys."
The Cardinals (3-3) would've liked to end the game better, with a trip to London coming Monday evening and a crucial NFC West game against the Rams in England in a week. They built a 31-0 lead early in the third quarter, only to see Tampa Bay backup quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick – who hails from nearby Gilbert – bring the Bucs 33 second-half points.
The defense, missing cornerback Patrick Peterson (quadriceps) for much of the second half, got a crucial interception from Peterson replacement Tramon Williams to set up what turned out to be the game-winning touchdown – scored, fittingly, by Adrian Peterson.
"I don't want to say we didn't play great (on defense)," said safety Antoine Bethea, who had an interception or a third straight game. "But we have to finish better."
It ended up not to matter, because the Cardinals ran over the Bucs (2-3) for the first two-plus quarters.
The Cardinals came into the game averaging 2.6 yards a rush. The most rushing yards any one player had had in a game was the 44 Chris Johnson had in Indianapolis. Peterson had 54 yards rushing on the first drive alone. The Indianapolis game was also the best game they had had as a team rushing the ball, with 83 yards total. By halftime Sunday, the Cardinals had 98 yards rushing.
Behind Peterson, the Cardinals finished with 160 rushing yards total, the most since they had 175 in Miami in December last season. It was a number the Cards topped only three times last year, when David Johnson made the Cards' rushing game one of the best in the league.
"That's the opportunity I've been waiting for," Peterson said. "Once I got that call on Tuesday, I was rejuvenated. My wife even said, 'It's like a boulder was lifted off your back.' "
Peterson's huge day almost included another 41 yards, a run that likely would've ended the drama much earlier. It was called back because of a block-in-the-back on the other side of the field by wide receiver Jaron Brown. On the next play, Fitzgerald fumbled and the Bucs ran it in for a touchdown to make the score, 31-20.
Fitzgerald called his turnover "idiotic," but had no surprise in watching his current tenant – Peterson is staying
in Fitzgerald's guesthouse – rumble for such a big game.
"We've seen this movie before," Fitzgerald said, adding "I wish he'd been 11 years here from the beginning. I'd have a Super Bowl ring already."
The Cardinals said a running game could change the offense, and it did. Fitzgerald was wide-open on many of his catches, and the receiver said it was Peterson's presence that directly allowed him to get open for his first touchdown catch.
Palmer threw only 22 passes, completing 18 for 283 yards, by far the fewest attempts he has had in a game this season.
"There was such a high percentage of eight-man boxes because he was in there," Palmer said. "The secondary and the underneath coverage is so affected by the possibility of the ball being in his hands."
The Buccaneers did shave the lead to five with just over two minutes left, but Fitzgerald collected the onside kick and waited a moment before going down, making sure the clock would run under the two-minute warning and allowing the Cardinals – finally – to kneel out the clock.
Defensive tackle Josh Mauro said seeing Peterson perform on the first drive "gave the whole team a boost of confidence."
"(The older guys) are still around for a reason," Mauro said. "You have to be a pretty special player to play into your mid-30s. They are the leaders and we just follow as they go."
Palmer and Fitzgerald were already having pretty good seasons. Adding Peterson to the mix might just make the path a lot more fun.
"I've never lost focus," Peterson said. "I've always understood what God has blessed me with. Being able to come here and have the opportunity to display it, it was satisfying. It felt good."
Images from the Week 6 matchup at University of Phoenix Stadium