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TURNOVERS PROVE CARDS' UNDOING (AGAIN) IN 38 -35 LOSS TO TAMPA BAY.

The Setup
According to their head coach, Tampa Bay (4 & 2 and coming off a come-from-behind win) is "the best team in the NFL."  The Cards (3 & 3 and coming off an error-plagued, "quarterback-challenged" loss to a division foe) are still trying to establish some stability. The Buccos have relied on turnovers, error-free QBing and come-from-behind heroics to overcome weaknesses in stopping the run and throwing the ball. They unveiled a potent new weapon a couple of weeks ago in the form of 246 lb thumper, RB LeGarrette Blount. The Cardinals have had problems in Atlanta and San Diego stopping physical run games. The Buccos may be missing three offensive line starters (Trueblood, Faine and Vincent) this Sunday. Major challenge for Cards will be getting at least an average performance out of rookie QB Max Hall (who struggled badly last week).

The Bottom Line:
It's fortuitous that Max Hall wears the number six - all the Cardinals have to do is print the word "Pick" above the jersey number. Hall threw 2 pick-sixes before being yanked in the first half in favor of Derek Anderson. The two interceptions helped put us in a 10-point  (24 - 14) half-time deficit. The Cards were down 31 - 14 after LeGarrette Blount's 15-yard TD run, but the Cards got the 7 points back on a 30 yard scamper around left end by LSH. A 21-yard TD run on a fumble recovery by newly activated Gerald Hayes brought us with 3-points (at 31-28) and a successful Anderson to Fitz 5-yard pass gave us our first lead since early in the 1Q to make it 35 - 31 Cardinals. But a 53 yard bomb (off one of several unchallenged bootlegs to the right) from Josh Freeman to A. Benn set up the game-winning 1-yard TD run by Blount.

What was really perplexing and gut-wrenching, however, was that there was still 5:13 left to play. but on the first play from scrimmage, Anderson's pass to LSH over the middle exposed Stephens-Howling to a ferocious hit which jarred loose the ball and resulted in an interception. But even then - despite Tampa Bay getting the ball on the Cardinal 22-yard line, the Cardinal defense held. Barth's 53-yard FG attempt was blocked by Kerry Rhodes. Cards got the ball back on their own 43 with 3:16 left. He got us well within FG distance at the TB 20; 1st & 10 with 2:15 still left on the clock. (I have to wonder out loud whether Chris Miller or whomever was communicating with Anderson on the headset had the presence of mind to instruct: "If it's not there, throw it away). It wasn't there - Anderson's pass intended for Fitzgerald was picked off by Talib. The Cards actually had one more chance at a game-tying score when the defense got them the ball back on their own 13 with 0:55 left to play. But Anderson looked far from crisp - An 11-yard sideline competion to Hightower followed by an incompletion to a double-covered Fitz followed by one of those "cardboard statue/hold onto the ball too long"  11-yard sacks followed by another 11-yard sideliner to Fitz, followed - with 0:06 left on the clock - by a strangely conceived 24-yard pass to Fitz at the sideline (instead of our only option for scoring - a Hail Mary in the end zone).

Despite the early turnovers, the game was in our reach, but the late turnovers did us in once again.

Game Recap

1st Quarter

  • Cards (in their cool black unis) returned the opening kickoff to their own 25 and picked up a quick 1st down on a 14-yard run by Beanie; but a questionable incompletion (claiming that Beanie juggled a pass as he went out of bounds) forced a punt. TB started from their 12 and went 3 & out. Hall then led the offense from the Cardinal 39 to a TD on a 3 yard pass to Fitz. Key plays were passes to Wells (+14) and Fitz (+17) and an end-around by Breaston (+14). Cardinals 7 - Tampa Bay 0.

  • A holding call forced TB to start from their own 10 and they went 3 & out. (Clearly we had the momentum), but on the second play of the next series, Hall threw a Pick 6 into double coverage to Geno Hayes who returned it 43 yards for a touchdown. Cardinals 7 - Tampa Bay 7.

  • Stephens-Howling returned the KO to the Cardinal 33, but we went 3 & out. We held TB to 3 & out and we ran off one play as the quarter ended. First Quarter Score: Cardinals 7 - Tampa Bay 7.

2nd Quarter

  • Cards started from their own 26 and managed to get it to their own 33 in 5 or 6 plays before punting .The punt was muffed and LSH recovered.  Cards ball on the TB 16. Four plays later, Beanie punched it in for a one-yard TD. Cardinals 14 - Tampa Bay 7.

  • TB started from their 20. On the 3rd play from scrimmage (after a defensive holding call on A-Dub), Freeman torched either Toler or DRC for a 47 yard TD pass to Mike Williams. (So much for a pitchers' dual).  Cardinals 14 - Tampa Bay 14.

  • On the 4th play of the next series, Hall hit Tallib (he's on their side) for a 45-yard pick 6. Tampa Bay 21 - Cardinals 14.

  • (Exit Mr. Hall. Enter Mr. Anderson). LSH gave us great field position on the Cardinal 45 and the Cards made it all the way to the TB 3. But Wiz's decision to "go for it" on 4th & goal didn't pan out - 3 points left on the field. 3:15 left to play. The Cards let the Bucs off the hook when, on 3rd & 6,  LeGarrette Blount bulled his way for a 7-yard 1st down run. An apparent interception by A-Dub was nullified by an interference call on Wilson and TB capped its 12-play drive with a 21-yard Barth FG with 0:05 on the clock. Halftime Score: Tampa Bay 24 - Cardinals 14.

3rd Quarter

  • TB returned the 2H KO to its own 24, where Raheem Morris decided to give the Cards a heavy dose of LeGarrette Blount. But the Cards were able to hang in there and, on the 6th play, force a punt. On the 1st play from scrimmage, Anderson hit Fitz for 37 yards. Two plays later, he threw an apparent interception, but it was nullified by offsetting penalties. Two plays later, Graham punted from the TB 45 into the end zone.  A 21 yard scramble by Freeman (on  a 3rd & 4) set up a 15-yard TD run by Blount. (Uggglee!). Tampa Bay 31 - Cardinals 14.

  • Shortly after a 25 yard completion to Doucet & on the 7th play of the next series, LSH circled left end for a 30-yard TD scamper. Tampa Bay 31 - Cardinals 21.

  • And on the very first play of the next series, starting from the TB 15, Blount, on the end of a 6-yard run, coughed up the ball (forced by Lenon). Gerald Hayes scooped it up  and ran it in for a 21-yard TD (Welcome back, Gerald)! Tampa Bay 31 - Cardinals 28.

  • TB ran off one play before the quarter ended. 3rd Quarter Score: Tampa Bay 31 - Cardinals 28.

4th Quarter

  • Porters sack of Freeman (for minus-11) helped force a TB punt. An 11-yard Roberts return put the ball on the TB 48. Anderson hit Fitz for 36 and, 3 plays later, hit him again over the middle for +5 and a touchdown. Cards regained the lead!  Cardinals 35 - Tampa Bay 31.

  • But the lead was far from safe with 9:41 still left on the clock. On the 7th play from scrimmage (after Freeman converted a 4th & 1), the Tampa Bay QB (as he had several times earlier) rolled out unmolested to his right and - with plenty of time to allow Benn to get deep - hit the TB rookie for 53 yards to put the ball on the Cardinal one, where Blount punched it in from there. Tampa Bay 38 - Cardinals 35.

  • There was still 5:13 left, but an apparent completion from Anderson to LSH turned into an interception when Stephens-Howling was lit up after the reception by Ruud who plucked the fumbled ball out of thin air and returned it to the Cardinal 19. But the Cardinal defense rose to the occasion, stopping Blount for a 2-yard loss, sacking Freeman for minus-11 and then blocking Barth's 53-yard FG attempt.

  • Starting with great field position at the Cardinal 43 with 3:16 left on the clock, the Cardinals managed to get well within FG range at the TB 20-yard line with 2:15 left on the clock. All we had to do was to play it close-to-the-vest, drain some time off the clock and either score a game-winning TD or kick a game-tying FG. Instead, Anderson tried to force the ball into Fitzgerald. It was picked off by Talib.

  • TB now had the ball on their own 6 at the 2:10 mark. Once again, the Cards let them off the hook - This time it was Dockett, who let Blount spin out of his grasp behind the line-of-scrimmage and motor 48-yards to the Cardinal 46. The Cardinal defense then stiffened, and the Cards got the ball back on their own 13-yard line with no time-outs and 0:55 left to play. A minus-11 yard sack of Anderson drained 33 of those seconds off the clock, and it all came down to 4th & 8 at the Cardinal 26 with 0:06 left to play. (Given the down, distance and time plus Anderson's arm strength, clearly the only option we had was for him to throw a Hail Mary jump ball in the end zone and hope that Fitz or Breaston would come down with it or, maybe we'd get an interference call that would (since the game can't end with a penalty) give us a field goal shot to tie the game. Instead, Anderson hit Fitz at the sideline for +13 and the clock ran out. Final Score: Tampa Bay 38 - Cardinals 35.

"Game Stats"

  • 4 interceptions (2 by Hall and 2 by Anderson)/no fumbles lost.

  • Tampa Bay lost 2 fumbles. Net Cardinal Take-away ratio was minus-2 (and it was enough to cost us the game)

  • Blount gained 120 yards on 22 carries (Once again, we had trouble stopping a big RB)

  • We were outrushed 150 yards to 100.

  • We ran 39 pass plays vs. 23 running plays.

  • Beanie carried 16 times for 50 yards (Hightower had one carry)

  • We allowed Freeman to rack up a 121.8 passer rating. He went 18 for 25 with 1 TD and no picks.

  • We sacked him twice. We only gave up one sack.

  • By contrast, Hall's rating was 43.5. Anderson's was an almost-respectable 77.4

  • Breaston caught 8 of 11 passes thrown at him. Fitz went 6 for 12. Doucet was 4 for 5.

  • K Rhodes led the defense with 10 tackles followed by Campbell with 6 and a bunch of guys with 5

  • Cards kept the penalties down to three for minus-12 yards.

Bright Spots

  • LSH in the return game.

  • Anderson looked almost comfortable throwing to his receivers.

  • The Cardinal defense kept us in the football game at key points of the contest.

  • We did put some touchdowns on the board for a change (5 to be precise).

The Dark Side

  • When plays needed to be made, we didn't always make them. The 46-yard run by Blount after escaping D-Dock's grasp. Breaston whiffing on a TD pass. Allowing Freeman to pick up a key 4th & 1 late in the game. The 2 penalties on A-Dub. Beanie and Max seemed to be constantly tripped up by the "Turf Monster."

  • We continually kept allowing Freeman to escape outside-contain on roll outs to his right. (Actually it wasn't poorly executed contain, it was no contain whatsoever) which gave the TB quarterback all the time in the world to locate and hit his man deep.

  • Beanie's missed block was the cause of one Hall interception.

  • We couldn't totally stop Blount.

  • Questionable play-call on the final play of the game. Witth 0:06 on the clock, Anderson had the arm to throw a Hail Mary - giving us the opportunity to catch a jump ball in the end zone or maybe pick up an interference call which (since the game can't end on a penalty) would have given us an excellent chance to kick a game-tying chip-shot FG. Instead, Anderson threw a medium-short sideline pass to Fitz, who stepped out of bounds to end the game.

  • Who had outside contain on the left side? How many times did Freeman roll unchallenged to his right - which gave him a gazillion seconds to complete balls thrown deep?

  • All our QB's had to do was play 50% sound football in order to give the rest of our guys the chance to win. The four interceptions were flat-out deadly. Anderson's interception late in the game cost us a sure 3 points and probably the game. Do our coaches warn our QB's to via the headset to "throw it away if it isn't there?" And if they do, do Max and Derek bother to listen? If they continue to make the same mistakes, I can only conclude that "it's our coaches and personnel people who have put us in that position and they need to be held accountable.

Last Word:
We're 3 & 4 and very lucky Seattle lost. We are now in 3rd place in our division (behind Seattle and StL) and only one game ahead of the Niners. We're still competitive within the division, but will only survive if we somehow bring our 2 QB's to a level where they stop shooting themselves (& us) in the foot.
 
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Copyright 1996 Gollin & Associates. Last modified: 11/01/2010