TAMPA, Fla. -- If the Arizona Cardinals could fast-forward their games to about the middle of the fourth quarter, their offense would look like the well-oiled unit it was touted to be.
It’s those first three quarters that are catching them.
Something was off from Arizona’s first play Sunday at Tampa Bay. Carson Palmer was sacked when Gerald McCoy was given a clear path to the quarterback. A play later, Rashard Mendenhall dropped a pass that’s usually a gimme. And on the Cardinals' next drive Mendenhall dropped a carry and fumbled the ball away.
The offense's woes picked up where they left off in New Orleans and continued until the Cardinals’ defense willed this team to victory, 13-10, late in the fourth quarter at Raymond James Stadium. Before then, however, the defense was simply keeping the offense above water.
Wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald wasn’t targeted once in the first half, which ended with Arizona totaling just 87 yards of offense, three first downs and an 0-for-6 on third down. The Cardinals punted on six of their seven possessions in the first half. Mendenhall’s fumble was on the other possession.
“That was some ugly ball … that was bad ball in the first half all around,” said Fitzgerald, who was visibly frustrated, hanging his head after some plays. “Our defense kept fighting for us, kept the game manageable for us. We’re so thankful those guys played their tail off.”
Fitzgerald said he didn’t demand the ball at halftime or draw plays in the sand that could get him open. But when the Cardinals took possession for the first time in the second half, Fitzgerald was Palmer’s first target for a 9-yard pass. Then Palmer hit Michael Floyd for 14 yards and Fitzgerald again for 21. Arians began moving Fitzgerald around, and it helped the All-Pro get open. The offense was finally showing those flashes that offensive coordinator Harold Goodwin talked about last week.
But even then, the Cardinals’ offense figured out ways to stall. They began the third quarter with two impressive drives, both of which were curtailed after Palmer threw interceptions from the Tampa Bay 15- and 33-yard lines, respectively.
Palmer said part of the offense's struggles come from playing only four games together.
“You got a new system, a lot of new players in new spots,” Palmer said. “There is not a lot of continuity really anywhere.”
Yet Arians appears to accept the offense’s flaws as long as the Cardinals win. But would Patrick Peterson have been able to intercept a veteran quarterback twice, as he did against Bucs rookie Mike Glennon? Or would a seasoned signal-caller have been able to stretch a lead during the second and third quarters? They’re questions to ponder with Carolina’s Cam Newton coming to town.
That is why they play 60 minutes, Arians said, and as long as the Cardinals hang around long enough to win, he’s OK with some bumps in the road.
“Just win the fourth quarter and we’ll be all right,” Arians said.
“I thought the fourth quarter was some of the best football we’ve played all year. It was just a matter of doing it. It was there to be done.”