Saturday, December 16, 2017
Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Bucs-Cardinals: NFL's Week 1 feel-good story looks like a mirage in the desert

GLENDALE, Ariz. — The Bucs were well on their way to a humbling, if not humiliating, 40-7 loss to the Cardinals in the fourth quarter Sunday when Jameis Winston handed off to Charles Sims and then lowered his right shoulder into the chest of Marcus Cooper, flattening the Cardinals cornerback.

Cooper had two of the four interceptions of Winston on Sunday, including one returned for a touchdown, and he reacted to Winston's hit by pulling the quarterback to the ground.

Winston got up swinging, and the two had to be separated by officials.

Winston showed plenty of fight in the game, but he didn't connect with his punches or enough of his passes. The reigning NFC offensive player of the week and his receivers were overmatched in every phase of the game.

"We were just out there competing. He picked me off twice, almost a third one," Winston said of Cooper, who was traded to the Cardinals from the Chiefs on Sept. 2 and did not play on defense in Arizona's season opener. "He balled out (Sunday). Kudos to him. I'm just out there trying to play."

Winston completed 27 of a career-high 52 passes for 243 yards, one touchdown and the four interceptions, his most since a Week 4 loss to the Panthers last season.

After watching Winston throw four touchdown passes in a 31-24 win at Atlanta in the season opener, coach Dirk Koetter's plan was to attack the blitzing, man-to-man scheme of the Cardinals.

Arizona All-Pro cornerback Patrick Peterson shadowed receiver Mike Evans. Evans was targeted 17 times and caught only six passes for 70 yards and a touchdown.

It was Peterson's interception in the end zone on a pass to Evans that ended the Bucs' promising drive to start the game and set the tone for Winston's long day.

"They were aggressive like we thought they were," Koetter said. "They did a good job of running their (cornerbacks) downhill. They brought their safeties. They matched Patrick Peterson on Mike. That's the defense we expected to see. They did a good job. They did a better job than us. They did a better job coaching. A better job playing.

"It's a humbling league. We got humbled (Sunday). We got beat up all over the field. Hats off to the Cardinals for a job well done. I didn't do a good enough job getting these guys ready to go. We turned it over way, way too many times."

Meanwhile, the Bucs' defense failed to create a turnover for the second straight game. Cardinals quarterback Carson Palmer passed for 308 yards and three touchdowns before being lifted in the fourth quarter.

Palmer's touchdown pass to receiver Larry Fitzgerald made it 7-0 two plays into the second quarter. On the Bucs' ensuing series, Winston threw behind Vincent Jackson and Cooper made his first interception to set up a field goal. Then the wheels fell off for the Bucs in the final three minutes of the first half.

Winston lost the ball after bumping into Sims, and Palmer responded by flipping a 1-yard touchdown pass to Michael Floyd. Trailing 17-0 with 1:30 remaining in the half, Winston threw incomplete three times and used only 17 seconds off the clock.

Worse yet, despite Bucs safety Chris Conte patrolling the deep middle of the field, the Cardinals' Jaron Brown got behind him for a 51-yard touchdown pass to make it 24-0 with 45 seconds left in the half.

"Heck, we went right down the field and scored last week (at the end of the half against the Falcons)," Koetter said. "You can't have it both ways. You say last week that was the turning point of the game when we went down and scored (in a two-minute drill) and be (ticked) off that we went three and out."

Winston hit Evans for the Bucs' only touchdown of the game on a wrong-shoulder throw to cap the first series of the second half. But on the Bucs' next series, Cooper intercepted a tipped pass intended for Sims and returned it 60 yards for a score.

Koetter said he was nervous about how the Bucs would respond in the game because they had a bad practice on Wednesday.

"I was a little nervous," Koetter said. "We didn't come back and have a good practice on Wednesday. I talked to the team about it. But you can't foresee it."

With a 1-1 record and tied atop the NFC South with the Panthers and Falcons, the Bucs are in good shape, given the difficulty of starting the season with two road games. But the NFL's feel-good story of Week 1 looked like a mirage in the desert in Week 2.

"When I grew up, whenever you got beat up, you didn't accept it," defensive tackle Clinton McDonald said. "You said, "You know what? I'm going to see him again.' Whoever else comes and gets some, I'm going to give it to them, too. We have to come back with that attitude. This was a fight that we lost."

Like Winston, they went down swinging and missing.

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