Linebacker Gerald Hayes (54) celebrates with teammate Will Davis after scoring during Sunday's 38-35 loss to the Buccaneers.
Neither Gerald Hayes or Steve Breaston were much in the mood to revel in their efforts, not after the Cardinals' 38-35 loss Sunday to the Buccaneers.
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 Paris Lenon stripped Buccaneers running back LeGarrette Blount late in the third quarter, was the first step in energizing the Cards' improbable rally that actually saw them take the lead.
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."
BEANIE'S FIRST START
Running back Beanie Wells got his first career start, and it looked like it was going to be a spectacular one after he ripped off a 14-yard gain on the very first play of the game.
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 Derek Anderson threw his last crucial interception, but he said that was a function of the offensive package being used and not his back.
"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."
Tim Hightower ended up with just one carry (for no yards), although Whisenhunt said that was just the way the game went and not a foretelling of the future. LaRod Stephens-Howling ended up with the second-most carries, gaining 41 yards on four attempts, including a 30-yard touchdown run. Stephens-Howling was also sidelined at the end of the game after suffering a rib injury when hit trying to make a pass reception. Stephens-Howling said he'd be OK.
GOING FOR SIX
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 Alan Faneca, yet Breaston still almost made the catch in the end zone.
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."
Arizona Cardinals Home: The official source of the latest Cardinals headlines, news, videos, photos, tickets, rosters and game day information
You've Got Mail: In The Heat Of The Summer
Topics include the defensive line, Jalen Thompson and Zaven's speed
Dennis Gardeck Headed In Right Direction With Rehab
Linebacker making comeback from ACL tear in Week 15
Kelvin Beachum: 'I'm Still Learning' About Juneteenth
Cardinals lineman writes about holiday's history in hometown
After Substantial Progress, Cardinals' Defense Wants More
Defensive coordinator Vance Joseph proved accurate in promising improvement
Cardinals' Offensive Line Handled The Pressure
Group allowed hurry probability of only 7.2 percent in 2020, per NextGenStats tracking data
Kingsbury: Cardinals Have Been 'Overly-Educated' About COVID-19 Vaccine
Cardinals coach unsure about percentage of his players who are vaccinated
Ready Or Not, Zaven Collins' Time Is Coming
Rookie middle linebacker attempting to learn defense quickly
You've Got Mail: Seven Weeks To Training Camp
Topics include CB2, Kyler Murray's immediate future and Chandler Jones
Top Takeaways From The Cardinals' 2021 Offseason
In shortened offseason, team younger at inside linebacker, Watt impact felt
Kyler Murray's Legs Can't Shoulder The Whole Load
Cardinals' offense suffered when quarterback ran less due to injury