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Tough One In Tampa

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Cardinals receiver Larry Fitzgerald streaks downfield in the first quarter, but ended up stepping out of bounds to set the tone in a 17-10 loss.

TAMPA, Fla. – The pirate ship that sits behind one of the end zones at Raymond James Stadium is a Disney-esque creation designed to make the game experience more enjoyable.

But the skull and swords on the ship's sail looming over the field Sunday seemed much more foreboding during the Cardinals' visit.

Perhaps that's what happens when the visitors struggle as much as the Cards did against the Buccaneers during a disappointing 17-10 loss in front of 65,267 fans.

"I am disgusted," Cardinals quarterback Kurt Warner said. "I am embarrassed.

"That was ridiculous, the way we played offensively. We have no excuse with how bad we played."

After spending the week trying to find ways to decipher the Bucs' defense, the Cardinals (3-5) had their worst offensive stumble of the season.

The Cards came out with an eight-yard completion to Anquan Boldin and then Warner lofted a perfect pass to Larry Fitzgerald, who caught it in stride. But what looked like might be an 80-yard touchdown catch-and-run was derailed when Fitzgerald accidentally stepped out of bounds.

Fitzgerald said he did not remember what happened on the play. Coach Ken Whisenhunt said he didn't see it.

The play went for 47 yards and the Cards eventually got a 47-yard Neil Rackers field goal, but the step out was only the beginning of the bad.

The Buccaneers (5-4) could run the ball, with Earnest Graham gaining 124 yards. The Cardinals, losers of three straight, could not. Even with one of Tampa Bay's top run stuffers, defensive end Greg Spires, out with an injury, James had just 15 yards on nine carries.

The Bucs ended up holding the ball for 43 minutes and seven seconds of the 60-minute game, a stunningly one-sided number.

Warner's day never got much better. Historically, Warner has had trouble with the Buccaneers – a 58.8 passing rating in four previous meetings, with five touchdown passes compared to 13 interceptions – and it didn't get better Sunday.

Warner completed just 10 of 30 throws for 172 yards. His early interception set up a Tampa Bay field goal. The Bucs missed chance to intercept at least two other passes, while Cardinals receivers had four first-half drops.

Warner also threw a second interception late, a play that killed any last-chance hopes the Cards had. Replays showed that Bucs defensive back Jermaine Phillips may have been out of bounds, but with 2:31 left and the Cards out of timeouts, Whisenhunt could not challenge the call.

Not that it should have come to such a play.

"They kicked our butts," Whisenhunt said.

The Buccaneers did nothing spectacular offensively, but they used Graham to eat clock, quarterback Jeff Garcia to escape pass rush pressure and a couple of Cards' defensive lapses.

One came on Joey Galloway's 37-yard touchdown reception on Tampa Bay's first possession. Free safety Terrence Holt was in perfect position to either intercept the pass or at least knock it down. He did neither.

In the third quarter and the game still within reach, Tampa Bay had 23 offensive plays, the Cardinals five.

"Every game we have been in, we should have and could have won," Holt said. "That play with Galloway, I've got to make."

Each of the Cardinals' five road games has been decided by a single score. But Sunday, it didn't feel like it.

"I felt the team was in a good mental state," Whisenhunt said. "We just fell flat." * * * Contact Darren Urban at askdarren@cardinals.nfl.net. Posted 11/4/07

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