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Cardinals' Urgency Heightened As Bucs Arrive

After subpar season opener, team intent on avoiding second straight loss

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Cardinals running back David Johnson played well against the Patriots but didn't have enough help.

There are no mulligans in the NFL, but for a team as talented as the Cardinals, there is still plenty of time to escape the sand trap.

The excitement to start the regular season fizzled quickly last Sunday, as the undermanned Patriots scored a touchdown on their opening possession and hung on for a 23-21 upset win.

There is an uneasy angst permeating the Valley after a clunky preseason, and now, a dispiriting opener. That can be washed away quickly if last year's form emerges on Sunday afternoon against the Buccaneers, and it needs to, because a 1-1 start is appreciably more digestible than two straight home losses to start 2016.

"Any good team, especially if you have character, you never lose two in a row," coach Bruce Arians said. "That's always about the character in your locker room. I've talked about it since I've been here. It hasn't happened very often, and there should be a heightened sense of urgency."

The Cardinals don't just have designs of winning the NFC West in 2016. They feel like this is a championship-caliber roster, and one thing Arians wants badly is home field advantage throughout the postseason to help the cause.

As early as it is, remaining winless one-eighth of the way through the regular season would make that a tough challenge.

"There's only 16 in the regular season, so you have to think that they are all must-wins," wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald said. "It's not baseball where you play 100-plus games or basketball where you play 80-plus games. Every single week you've got to be fighting and scratching to get wins so you don't get behind the 8-ball."

Tampa Bay comes to town off a 31-24 road win over the Falcons, where second-year quarterback Jameis Winston earned NFC offensive Player of the Week honors by throwing for 281 yards and four touchdowns.

His maturation makes the Buccaneers more dangerous in 2016 than last year's six-win club, and it's led to an optimistic vibe in Tampa Bay this week.

"Sure, the guys are happy," first-year coach Dirk Koetter said. "They should be."

In the same breath, Koetter talked about the challenge the Buccaneers face. The Cardinals are confident they will get back on track offensively. Defensive coordinator James Bettcher said his unit was "sick to our stomachs" after watching the Patriots video and vows to play better.

"They got off to a slower start than they wanted to," Koetter said. "That doesn't diminish that they've got a lot of really good players (and) they're very well coached."

Mike Evans gives Winston an elite receiving option and Doug Martin finished second in the NFL with 1,402 rushing yards in 2015, but no matter whom the Cardinals face each week, they feel as if they have the antidote.

Star cornerback Patrick Peterson figures to match up with Evans often, while stopping the run has long been a defensive strength.

On offense, the Cardinals must handle Buccaneers Pro Bowl defensive tackle Gerald McCoy on the interior – a problem exacerbated if right guard Evan Mathis can't play with a foot injury – but if the pass protection holds up, quarterback Carson Palmer should produce.

The Cardinals' weapons didn't disintegrate before the season and there's no need to lower the expectations after one clunker. But two makes a trend, and it would transform the outside angst to a panic.

The Cardinals have no plans of letting it get to that point.

"We know we left a lot out there on Sunday," linebacker Kevin Minter said. "It's time to show and prove. People keep talking about the talent we have. It's time to display that talent."

Images of key players for this week's opponent, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers



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