Cornerback Patrick Peterson (arms raised) celebrates with teammates after his first interception Sunday, which led to the game-tying touchdown.
TAMPA, FLA. – Patrick Peterson did a short dance on the field and Karlos Dansby yelled in the hallway heading to the locker room when the game was finally over, "That's how we do it!"
The Cardinals' journey to an improbable win Sunday at Raymond James Stadium was not attractive and painful at times. But it was still a win after dramatically scoring 10 points in the final 3:06 to capture a 13-10 decision over the Buccaneers.
And it was a win because Peterson played like a Pro Bowler, and took advantage of Tampa Bay rookie quarterback Mike Glennon
With the Cardinals (2-2) slogging through most of the day and unable to put points on the board, it was Peterson's first interception of the season that set up the game-tying touchdown with a little more than three minutes left in the game. His second pick sealed the win as the seconds wound down.
"I'm really surprised they threw toward him with the rookie quarterback," coach Bruce Arians said. "For a great athlete he studies
the game extremely hard. He probably could call the plays they were going to run at that point. I would argue he is the best in the league. It's not even close in my opinion."
The result was a sigh of relief from a team that has been gone from home since flying to New Orleans more than a week ago. Pro Bowl wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald wasn't even targeted for a pass in the first half, the Cards again struggled on third downs (1 for 10) and Carson Palmer threw two interceptions when Arizona should have had at least a field goal.
Arians wasn't fazed when it was over.
"The game is played for 60 minutes," Arians said. "It doesn't matter what goes on as long as you can maintain the chase."
The Cards stayed in the "chase" because of the defense. Hurting from the injuries of the week before, more came Sunday. Safety Rashad Johnson (finger) sat out and the Cards lost defensive tackle Darnell Dockett (groin) and linebacker Jasper Brinkley (groin) during the game.
The unit clamped down regardless. In the second half, Tampa Bay (0-4) had seven possessions. Four ended with punts, one with a lost fumble and two with Peterson's picks.
"Defense is always important because defense wins championships," Peterson said.
The Cardinals were still sitting in a difficult position, scoreless until a Jay Feely field goal 11:21 left in the game and still trailing 10-3 with 4:04 left in the game. At that point, the Bucs had the ball at their own 7-yard line and facing a second-and-6 after a first down run.
All game, "they wanted to put (Glennon) in position not to throw the game away," Peterson said.
Yet that's exactly how it played out.
Tampa decided to throw the ball, and Peterson jumped in front of Vincent Jackson, returning it to the Tampa 13. On the very next play, Palmer rescued his difficult day by firing a touchdown pass to Fitzgerald.
"We saw that route almost every day of the week this week," Peterson said. "The quarterback, he was telegraphing the throw. I undercut the route."
Tampa Bay coach Greg Schiano said the Cardinals had done a good enough job against the run – Tampa totaled 80 rush yards on 31 carries – the Bucs "had to run our offense to get it out of there."
"In retrospect, would you like to have run something different? Sure," Schiano said.
At that point, momentum had completely shifted to the Cardinals. Tampa started the next possession on their own 10 after an ill-advised kickoff return, and the sequence ended with the first career sack of new outside linebacker Dontay Moch on the Bucs' 1.
The punt gave the ball to the Cards on the Tampa 38, and it didn't take long to negotiate into Feely field-goal range. It seemed almost inevitable, with Glennon under duress, that the game would end with another Peterson pick.
"I have a lot of confidence in our offense being able to put points on the board," defensive end Calais Campbell said. "I thought if we kept playing our game we'd have a chance at the end, and we did."
Glennon ended up 24-of-43 for 193 yards, and did throw a touchdown pass early in the game. But the Tampa offense was a second-half non-factor and incredibly, the Cards ended up outgaining the Bucs, 296-253 – a notion that seemed far-fetched after the start the Cards had.
"To come out with a win feels great," said Fitzgerald, who had six catches for 68 yards. "But we know we have a long way to go. The way we played in the first half is inexcusable."
Palmer said he thought the week staying back in Florida helped the Cards have some energy in the fourth quarter, energy he didn't think would have been there had the team flown back and forth to Arizona.
In truth, Arians said, his team had no excuses not to win Sunday, against a rookie quarterback and having adjusted to the time zone. In the end, they did.
"An ugly win is still a win," Feely said. "It doesn't matter in the NFL."