Quarterback Derek Anderson reacts to his final interception that cost the Cards a chance to at least tie Tampa ina 38-35 loss to the Buccaneers.
Steve Breaston was barely talking above a whisper, and perhaps that was fitting, given the way the Cardinals had just lost, a punch-to-the-gut 38-35 defeat to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at University of Phoenix Stadium.
The Cards had suffered big losses earlier in the season. In many ways, this should have felt worse, but the wide receiver said it didn't – it couldn't – because there was no difference.
"It's all been the same form, no matter losing big or losing close," Breaston said. "You can't have turnovers. That's what it boils down to. Today was the same fight. Today we almost overcame them, but we didn't.
"It's the same. It's the same."
That included the same ill looks on many players and coach Ken Whisenhunt.
"It's discouraging," Whisenhunt said. "There are so many twists and turns, and then to have a chance at the end and make a mistake, it's a very bitter loss."
The Cardinals (3-4) lost back-to-back games for the first time since December, 2008, when they suffered a loss at home against Minnesota and a road loss in New England. They looked like they would sidestep such a feat yet again, however, when they had moved down to the Tampa 20-yard line with a little more than two minutes left.
On first down, however, quarterback Derek Anderson – in the game because starter Max Hall was pulled after throwing two interceptions returned for touchdowns – tried to fit a pass to Larry Fitzgerald into tight coverage.
"It was (Cover) Two and the corner just squeezed it," Anderson said. "I think the ball went to the right spot. I have to look at it. But the guy made a good play. Obviously, it was very frustrating, first down on their 20 and to throw a pick and not even give us a chance to at least tie the game."
Cornerback Aqib Talib made his second interception of the game, crushing the raucous crowd. It was the Cards' fourth interception of the game, and on the next play Bucs running back LeGarrette Blount broke off a 48-yard run that all but sealed the Cards' painful fate.
Those are the mistakes the Cards can't afford. Hall's two errors cost his team 14 points (Talib and linebacker Geno Hayes were responsible for Tampa's defensive touchdowns). Those plays allowed the Buccaneers (5-2) to bury the Cardinals in a 31-14 hole, before what seemed like a miraculous rally.
"I think other than (the interceptions) I was playing a decent half," said Hall, who finished 8-for-16 for 71 yards. "Unfortunately those two throws just really turned the momentum."
The Cards, in fact, benefitted from Tampa turnovers of their own, recovering a punt muff to set up a short field and score and later, a fumble return for a touchdown by veteran linebacker Gerald Hayes. Anderson's five-yard touchdown pass to Larry Fitzgerald – one of two scores by Fitzgerald in game – actually allowed the Cards to take a 35-31 lead in the fourth quarter.
The Cardinals allowed a 53-yard pass from Josh Freeman to Arrelious Benn to anchor a 74-yard responding touchdown drive, however. Arizona did manage to avoid disaster on Anderson's first interception – a near-completion to LaRod Stephens-Howling that was jarred loose on a huge hit and grabbed by diving linebacker Barrett Ruud before it hit the ground – when safety Kerry Rhodes blocked the ensuing field-goal attempt.
That set up what looked like the Cardinals' finest moments. Working in the two-minute offense, Anderson directed a drive through two penalties and two completions down to the Tampa 20. Backup Tim Hightower was in the game for extended work for the first time – Stephens-Howling bruised his ribs on the hit, while new starter Beanie Wells, who had hurt his back, doesn't play in the two-minute work – and Whisenhunt said he liked how the Cards were moving the ball through the air.
"We thought we had a good play based on coverages that we thought we were going to get," Whisenhunt said. "Obviously, you ask me that now and I'd like to have it back and run it."
Anderson finished 16-of-24 for 234 yards. Whisenhunt said "I'm not going to have any decisions" on the quarterback position at the moment, although he acknowledged "we're not getting what we need out of the quarterback situation right now."
Breaston ended up with a career-high 147 yards receiving on eight catches in his first game back after knee surgery, and Wells had 50 yards on 16 carries in his first NFL start.
Freeman, however, was efficient (18-of-25 for 278 yards and a touchdown with no interceptions) and Blount pounded the Cards for 120 yards rushing and two touchdowns on 22 carries.
But as Buccaneers coach Raheem Morris had said last week, "stats are for losers" and all the Tampa offense numbers wouldn't have meant much if the Cards hadn't given the ball away again and again.
The Cards find themselves in third place in the NFC West suddenly, although the Seahawks (4-3) were hammered in Oakland. The Rams (4-4) won, as did the still-lurking 49ers (2-6). It's a division there for the taking, assuming the Cards don't keep giving.
"The only thing bad about today is we can't go 13-3," defensive tackle Darnell Dockett said. "That's got to be the attitude."
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