The Cardinals thought they were going to give themselves a Christmas present Sunday night.
Instead, Tom Brady -- in the first game he'd played against the Cardinals since 2012 -- played just well enough at the end of the game to add another chapter to his magical career.
"We knew who was across the ball from us," said Cardinals quarterback Trace McSorley, after Brady turned a 16-6 fourth-quarter deficit into a 19-16 overtime win for his Buccaneers, and left the Cardinals again looking for answers following a loss at State Farm Stadium.
"It sucks," linebacker Zaven Collins said. "We had them."
The Cardinals (4-11) lost their fifth straight. While the defeat helps that part of the fanbase hoping for a better draft pick, to think the team closed out its home schedule with a lone victory would've been hard to fathom at season's outset.
To be fair, the matchup of third-stringer McSorley – making his first NFL start – and Brady – making his 331st – didn't bode well.
Most of the night, the Cardinals' defense made that even.
Brady threw two interceptions, both to cornerback Marco Wilson, and struggled all the way up to the point the Cardinals had their 10-point lead. The Bucs (7-8), needing a win to remain in first place in the NFC South, looked mostly impotent even with the G.O.A.T at quarterback.
Brady started the game 15-for-26 for 112 yards and the two picks. In the final 11 minutes of play – a chunk of overtime and the end of the fourth quarter – he completed 17 of 22 passes for 169 yards, a touchdown, no interception and one Christmas miracle dashed.
"If we keep it close in the fourth quarter, we know we've got a shot," Brady said.
McSorley completed 24-of-45 passes for 217 yards, and his one interception was a Hail Mary at the end of regulation that didn't matter. But while Greg Dortch had a great night – 10 catches for 98 yards and and another 25 yards rushing – DeAndre Hopkins only had one catch for four yards, despite 10 targets.
"It's football," Hopkins said. "I can only control what I can. We had some chances to make some plays but we (McSorley and Hopkins) only had a week to throw together as well. It's part of the game."
The Cardinals rode running back James Conner, who had 79 yards rushing on 15 carries and a 22-yard TD for the 10-point lead, and he added seven catches for 41 more yards. But on a crucial third-and-1 at the Tampa 42 and up, 16-13, McSorley's pitch to rookie running back Keontay Ingram was fumbled, and the Buccaneers recovered.
Brady moved the Bucs to a tying field goal, and the lead was gone for good, as it turned out.
"I've got to put (the ball) farther out in front of him," McSorley said of the ill-timed fumble. "That's on me."
The Cardinals had the ball first in overtime, but quickly were forced to punt, and Brady needed only the one possession. Ryan Succop ended up booting a 40-yard field goal with 3:42 left to rescue his team and delivering another blow to the Cardinals in a season full of them.
"We know who's across the ball from us and with that much time left, that's a lot of time for him to operate and do what he did," McSorley said.
Kicker Matt Prater drilled 53- and 56-yard field goals (plus one from 39) and was the Cardinals' main offense again, but the Cardinals couldn't find a way to get him one more long try in regulation prior to the Hail Mary.
And so Brady got a win what will likely be his only regular-season appearance at State Farm Stadium, keeping his team's postseason hopes alive. The Cardinals will finish the season with back-to-back road trips to Atlanta and San Francisco.
They will chase a win they couldn't quite get against a legend.
"It's football," wide receiver Marquise Brown said. "We know we're going up against Tom Brady."