J.J. Watt, knit cap on his head and emotion in his eyes, did a deliberate 360 as he was leaving the State Farm Stadium turf Christmas night. Watt had again played excellent football, and yet the Cardinals had lost in overtime to the Buccaneers, and the team had finished the season with one win at State Farm Stadium.
A lot faces Watt and this team by the time they play in this building again. For Watt in particular, he's one of the many free agents scheduled this offseason. The look-around very well could have been a glance around a place he's become fond of in two seasons knowing he might not play here again, at least for the home team.
But it's been a frustrating year for a franchise who used to give teams all kinds of trouble at home. Sunday, when you run a Trace McSorley out there for his first start and still nearly knock of Tom Brady's team, that can be a good thing. But not when it's a fumble with a three-point lead and the clock bleeding, knowing the game was within reach if you just avoid mistakes.
That hasn't happened enough.
I have no doubt Watt will go all out these last couple of games. The defense deserved to be the star late Christmas night, not another Tom Brady rally. But this is where the Cardinals are.
-- Matt Prater has dealt with a hip issue all season. He didn't even try a 50-yard field goal all season until he missed a 50-yarder against the Patriots a couple games ago. Since then? Four straight, from 50, 55, 56 and 53. The latter two came Sunday, and for the guy who owns the NFL record for most 50-plus field goals made in his career, sure, there was a hope he might be able to bomb one at the end of regulation.
With four seconds left, the ball was on the Arizona 49. It was just a little too far – as good as Prater is, a 70-yarder probably held more risk than reward.
"A 69- or 70-yarder, it's such a long kick," Prater said. "Could I get it there? Maybe? Maybe not? Everything has to go absolutely perfect, so it's such a small percentage, I think they made the right decision to throw it."
"But I would've been willing to try," Prater added with a smile.
-- The Cardinals tried to get the ball to DeAndre Hopkins. McSorley threw it to him 10 times. But Hop only had one catch, and it was a quick screen for four yards designed mostly to make sure Hop continued his consecutive games with a catch streak (now at 147.) The rest of the targets often weren't even close enough for Hop to get a hand on.
McSorley said the Bucs did a nice job disguising their coverages (especially for a young quarterback) and while Hop no doubt was disappointed, he wasn't about to criticize his QB.
"I know it's hard playing in this league, especially at the quarterback position," Hopkins said. "I'm not going to be hard on him if I'm having one catch. It's part of the process, he's dealing with a lot of stuff."'
-- The last time McSorley had started a football game was Jan. 1, 2019, when Penn State beat Kentucky in the Outback Bowl following the 2018 season.
-- Marquise Brown had a 47-yard catch to set up a score. The catch tied Greg Dortch's longest reception of the year for the Cardinals, although unlike Dortch's catch-and-run in Mexico City, Brown's catch was actually 47 yards in the air – by far the longest completion of the season for the Cardinals in air yards traveled.
Brown didn't start and didn't play much early. But when I asked if he was limited with his groin injury that landed him on the injury report, Brown responded honestly.
"I was late to a meeting so coach decided to cut my playing time," Brown admitted.
-- All Dortch does is produce when given the chance. He did it again Sunday: 10 catches for 98 yards and three carries for 25 yards. He's got to be in the mix for playing time next season. Right?
-- Tampa Bay has won seven games. In none of them have they scored more than 21 points.
-- Punter Andy Lee, one-time eighth-grade starting quarterback, delivered again on a fake, throwing a four-yard pass to linebacker Kamu Grugier-Hill for a first down. Lee is now 3 -for-4 passing for 56 yards in his NFL career. Good job by QB4.
-- Linebacker Zaven Collins lamented the Cardinals' inability to bring down Bucs running back Leonard Fournette in the game. Fournette filled the stat sheet with 72 yards rushing on 20 carries and another 90 yards on nine catches. It was a 44-yard catch-and-run that sparked the Bucs' lone TD drive. Collins felt the Cardinals should've tackled him much earlier in the play.
-- Cameras showed VP of player personnel Quentin Harris and VP of pro personnel Adrian Wilson sitting in a suite with owner Michael Bidwill. That's normally where we see GM Steve Keim during games. With Keim on leave, Harris and Wilson are sharing his duties, so it makes sense they were sitting with Bidwill.
That's enough for tonight. Merry Christmas, everyone. Two games to go.