Having just beaten the St. Louis Rams in an ugly game, the Buccaneers were 4-2 and traveling to the West Coast to face their next NFC West opponent: the Arizona Cardinals. The Cardinals had lost of a crucial players during the offseason, most notably Kurt Warner, and were a very inconsistent team. Somehow the Cardinals had managed to beat three different teams, including the New Orleans Saints, and they were 3-3 going into this game.However, there was one major problem their team would have to find it hard to overcome: a 26-year-old rookie who couldn't really throw the ball more than 4 yards ahead.
Meet Max Hall, miracle boy. The man who managed to win Offensive Player of the Week for fumbling the ball into the endzone. Of course, it's not like the Cards' backup was that much better. Derek Anderson may have a powerful arm, but he can't actually hit targets or read coverages. How any team could let their top two quarterbacks be two people who can't be trusted to complete any pass is beyond me. But even two incompetent quarterbacks might be able to beat the Bucs, so this game was far from over.
Staying true to their 2010 identity, the Buccaneers decided to just give up a touchdown in the first quarter for fun. The Bucs were in comfortable territory with this seven-point deficit, as they decided to simply allow Max Hall to complete a couple of passes, giving him the illusion of competence. This instilled the quarterback with the confidence he needed to try to complete passes he really couldn't, like any pass more than 5 yards downfield.
That gamble happened to pay off pretty swiftly. Later in the first quarter, Max Hall decided to test his luck and throw a pass across the middle of the field about 15 yards downfield. He was hit while throwing by a Sean Jones blitz he never saw coming, helped out by some incredibly incompetent blitz pickup by the Cardinals O-line and Beanie Wells. The ball was thrown about 10 yards short, and Geno Hayes scooped it up just before it hit the ground and ran it for a touchdown. Back to a tie game, and the Bucs hoped Max Hall had enough confidence left to attempt to still throw passes.
The Bucs then decided to spot the Cardinals some more points, just because they could. Sammie Stroughter skillfully muffed a punt, giving the Cardinals 16 yards to traverse. Max Hall was allowed to complete a pess, and then LaRod Stephens-Howling and Beanie Wells finished it off. 14-7 Cardinals, but the Bucs knew they had the Cardinals where they wanted them: overconfident, arrogant and easily scored on.
It only took three passes after that for the Bucs to score. First, a 13-yard pass to Mike Williams. He followed that up with another pass to Mike Williams, a beautiful 47-yard touchdown throw where Mike Williams ran by everyone, while a play action fake held the safety for that second Williams needed to beat him.
The Bucs then said "that's enough toying". Max Hall was allowed to complete two small passes before he was picked off by Aqib Talib, who promptly added another touchdown. For some reason, Max Hall thought he could complete a 10-yard out into double coverage. Yeah, no shot. The Bucs' plan had worked perfectly: Max Hall thought he was the man and was attempting throws he had no hope of completing. But then, the Cardinals stopped cooperating. They did the one thing that could stop the Bucs' plan: they pulled Hall for Derek Anderson, who at least could actually throw the ball, if not accurately or to open players.
After adding a field goal just before half (they were taking it easy on the Cardinals) the Bucs entered the second half with a 24-14 lead. The Bucs thought it'd be fun to be ahead by a little more, and they added another touchdown drive, featuring a nice 22-yard catch by Mike Williams, and a 15-yard touchdown run by Legarrette Blount who simply obliterated Kerry Rhodes. That made it 31-14, and the Bucs surely had this game in the bag. But they conspired to give the viewers a little more excitement, allowing the Cardinals to seemingly 'come back'.
This started when the Bucs allowed Early Doucet and LaRod Stephens-Howling to run past everyone without being tackled, giving the Cardinals one touchdown back. That made it a ten-point game. Then, Blount got a little confused by the opposition. See, they too had a linebacker with the last name Hayes wearing number 54: Gerald Hayes. Blount thought "Hey it's my pal Geno, you know he deserves to get the ball again", so he put it on the ground for Hayes to pick it up. Unfortunately, Gerald Hayes does not play for the Buccaneers and he gave the Cardinals another touchdown. It was now 31-28, and it seemed exciting again.
In fact, the Bucs made it even more exciting for the crowd: they allowed the Cardinals to actually take the lead on a touchdown pass to Larry Fitzgerald, which had been preceded by a 36-yard hookup between Derek Anderson and Steve Breaston. The Bucs quickly took back the lead, as Freeman completed a 53-yarder to Arrelious Benn, again off play-action. The referees decided to rule him down inches before the goalline, but that hardly mattered as Blount punched it in the very next play. The Buccaneers then decided to show LaRod Stephens-Howling he couldn't just score on the Bucs and get away with it, as Geno Hayes knocked him out just before Barrett Ruud scooped up the ball. This led to a field-goal attempt, which the Bucs allowed to be blocked so the Cardinals could have one last sweet taste of near-victory before Tampa Bay would cruelly take it away again.
As the Cardinals got down to the Bucs' 20-yard-line, the play that really won the game happened. Derek Anderson dropped back to pass, had no idea what he was seeing in coverage and decided to just rifle it to a triple-covered Larry Fitzgerald because, hey, it's Larry Fitzgerald. Why not, right? Well, Aqib Talib is why not. He picked off Derek Anderson at the Bucs' 6-yard line, giving Legarrette Blount the opportunity to just bury the Arizona Cardinals.
Blount was pretty efficient doing so, as he rumbled 48 yards to the Cardinals' 46-yard line. In the process he jumped over his BFF Kerry Rhodes, and nearly looked like going all the way, before being caught just past midfield. The Cardinals foolishly thought they could score on the Bucs defense after that, but that was obviously not happening. They had let the Cards have their fun, but they weren't going to actually lose this game.
In all seriousness, this game was one of many highs and lows. There were a lot of big plays, and there were a lot of big mistakes. I can't really point to one Swing Point in this game, as it was just so incredibly swingy. If anything, I'd point to Aqib Talib's late-game interception as a deciding play. But I'll remember this game most of all as Arrelious Benn and Legarrette Blount's coming out parties.