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Cardinals Fall Short Against Buccaneers In Reunion With Arians

Wide receiver Christian Kirk scores three touchdowns in 30-27 loss

Wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald makes a fourth-down catch Sunday during a 30-27 loss to the Buccaneers.
Wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald makes a fourth-down catch Sunday during a 30-27 loss to the Buccaneers.

TAMPA, Fla. – Nothing symbolized the Bruce Arians era in Arizona than "no-risk-it-no-biscuit," so it felt fitting that Kliff Kingsbury seemed to embrace the concept Sunday when the Cardinals played Arians' Buccaneers.

The choices to gamble worked. But too often, the Cardinals made mistakes that didn't, leading to a disappointing 30-27 loss to the Bucs at Raymond James Stadium.

"That's what separates the really good teams from average teams," Kingsbury said. "We had a bunch of those mistakes that make you an average team."

Wide receiver Christian Kirk had a career-best three touchdowns. Quarterback Kyler Murray had a mostly excellent game. The Cardinals (3-6-1) intercepted two passes of Jameis Winston, doubling their season total.

But what they didn't do stuck out.

The Cards could easily argue they cost themselves 16 points at a minimum. One of Kingsbury's biscuits was a fourth-and-2 play he chose instead of kicking a field goal, and it worked to perfection – until tight end Maxx Williams, wide open for an easy touchdown, lost the ball in the sun and dropped the pass. An interception from linebacker Jordan Hicks put the Cardinals near the red zone – until running back David Johnson fumbled the ball away after a catch. The Buccaneers (3-6) missed a field goal – until Patrick Peterson was called for lining up offsides, and kicker Matt Gay then converted.

(Peterson was later lost with a calf injury, a situation that most certainly bears watching.)

Even with all that, the Cards were still in good shape, at the Tampa 15, ahead by four with less than four minutes left. On a second down play, rookie quarterback Kyler Murray threw off his back foot, and Tampa cornerback Jamel Dean made what might've been a game-saving interception.

Kingsbury said it was a bad play call, but Murray immediately disputed that.

"I shouldn't have thrown it up, knowing we had a field goal to make it seven points," a frustrated Murray said. "Honestly, when I threw it, I thought there was no way in hell he'd pick the ball off."

The pick ended Murray's streak of 211 straight passes without an interception, breaking the NFL rookie record by the Cowboys' Dak Prescott. The timing proved painful.

The touchdown drive that proved to be the Bucs' game-winner covered 92 yards, aided by a 49-yard catch by Chris Godwin on the first play and two pass-interference calls. The second was the one covered in controversy.

On second down at the Arizona 13, rookie safety Jalen Thompson stumbled and fell, taking out the legs of Bucs wide receiver Mike Evans. No flag was thrown, but with the game in the final two minutes, the league decided on a booth review.

After the review, the pass interference was called, giving the Bucs the ball on the 1, where they scored a couple of plays later.

"We just stumbled over each other a bit," Thompson said. "I didn't even know what route he was running or what he was doing. … It's just frustrating to lose in general. That play is on me. I need to play it better, and not fall."

Kingsbury acknowledged he didn't expect an overturn.

"They didn't call it here, so to call it in New York (was surprising)," Kingsbury said. "The explanation I got was he fell into the back of his legs, so that's where it's at. That's a tough one."

Murray still had 1:43 left on the clock to try for a tying field goal, but the drive never got going as Murray was forced to scramble a couple of times. Then, facing a fourth-and-5 after a 2-yard dump pass to running back Kenyan Drake, the Cardinals burned up almost 40 seconds before getting a play off.

"We didn't have the sense of urgency we probably (should)," Kingsbury said. "We just have to have a better feel when the clock is running."

The missed chances spoiled Kirk's best game (6 catches, 138 yards) and a rediscovery of Larry Fitzgerald (8 catches on 8 targets for 71 yards, including an amazing fourth-down one-handed snare.)

Kingsbury went for it on fourth down three times, and the only fail was Williams' drop. One connection was a fake punt that featured Ezekiel Turner and Trent Sherfield moving the ball eventually to punter Andy Lee, who found Pharoh Cooper for a 26-yard pass on fourth-and-11 from the Arizona 36. That led to Kirk's third touchdown.

And yet …

"There were so many things in that game where we'd say, 'That could've been better,' " Kirk said.

"We just have to be better," Murray said.