Cardinals squander lead, fall to Buccaneers in OT on Christmas

(AP Photo/Rick Scuteri)

By Zach Alvira

Missed opportunities have been the story of the Arizona Cardinals season. 

The Cardinals have had multiple opportunities to close out games this season. They allowed the Chargers to come from behind and steal a victory in Week 12. They led the Patriots at the half two weeks ago before giving up 17 second-half points. And last week in Denver they collapsed in the final two quarters. 

Sunday night at State Farm Stadium was much of the same against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. A 16-6 lead in the fourth quarter quickly disappeared as Tom Brady led the Bucs to yet another come-from-behind win, 19-16, in overtime over the Cardinals. 

“I thought our guys played hard, battled,” Cardinals coach Kliff Kingsbury said. “I thought defense played their hearts out. Kept us in the game, gave us a chance, just weren’t able to finish offensively.”

A lacking Cardinals offense reared its ugly head yet again Sunday night, this time behind third-string quarterback Trace McSorley. 

He found chemistry early on with Greg Dortch, who had just 10 offensive snaps in the last two weeks heading into the Week 15 matchup. But against Tampa Bay he led the way for Cardinals’ receivers with 11 catches for 98 yards. He also had three carries for 25 yards. 

He was pivotal to the offense’s ability to move the ball, albeit on somewhat rare occasions. 

The Cardinals first three scoring drives all ended with Matt Prater field goals. He hit from 56, 53 and 39 yards, respectively, hitting the upright on his third and getting a friendly bounce. But those field goals came within a myriad of punts because of the stagnant offense.

McSorley, who passed for 217 yards and completed 24 of his 45 attempts, missed poorly at times on his incompletions. He was unable to find a connection with Hopkins, to which he credited Tampa Bay’s defense but also put the blame on himself for not taking advantage of opportunities.  

“They were showing off on Hop a lot of times then buzzing in underneath to take away the easy throws to him,” McSorley said. “There were times I could’ve gotten him the ball. I’ve gotta do a better job of … when those opportunities are there, because of how dynamic he is, how good of a player he is, I can’t let those opportunities slip and go away.”

The Cardinals lone touchdown came in the fourth quarter. James Conner found his way to paydirt from 22 yards out to put his team up 10. He rushed for 79 yards on the game.

Then, Tom Brady took over. 

He picked apart a Cardinals defense that, up until that point, had limited him all game. Check downs to running backs Leonard Fournette and Arizona State alum Rachaad White were the Cardinals’ Achilles heel. The longest of such passes went for 44 yards and set up a Brady 3-yard touchdown pass to White to cut the deficit to three points. Brady and company got the ball back again after a Cardinals fumble on a bad pitch exchange between McSorley and Keaontay Ingram. 

They quickly moved it into field goal range to tie the game with a Ryan Succop field goal and send it to overtime. 

“I’ve gotta put it farther out in front of him,” McSorley said of the fumble on the pitch to Ingram. “That’s on me.”

The defense kept the Cardinals in the game. Even when forced to head back out onto the field on short rest, they delivered. 

Pressure on Brady and stuffing the run game at times gave the offense opportunities. J.J. Watt once again performed at a high level, recording six total tackles, two of which for a loss, and two hits on Brady. 

Two interceptions from Marco Wilson on Brady stalled Tampa Bay drives.

“It felt amazing. It’ll probably hit me a little bit more tomorrow,” Wilson said of his interceptions. “I’m just a little bit more upset about the loss right now. Regardless of what is going on with the record and the situation, we’re going to go out there and play our behinds off and fight hard.”

The Cardinals were unable to get anything going offensively in overtime, which set up Brady for one of his patented game-winning drives. He led the Buccaneers down the field and Succop connected on his fourth field goal of the night to win.

Kingsbury said after the game he believed McSorley did enough to keep them in the game. He also praised the defense for their efforts and admitted to having to game plan better to get Hopkins and Marquise “Hollywood” Brown involved. Hopkins had one catch for 4 yards. Brown had three for 57. 

He’ll aim to do that in their final two games on the road at Atlanta and San Francisco, where the Cardinals are playing for any pride that remains in a forgettable season.

“I’ve gotta do a better job of getting the ball to DeAndre, obviously,” Kingsbury said. “If it’s not coming with the flow of the offense for the game plan we had coming in, I’ve gotta do a better job adjusting.

“I thought we had some opportunities. But we have to find ways to make plays and get those guys the football.”