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Buccaneers, Cardinals face off for second straight year
GLENDALE, Ariz. -- When the Tampa Bay Buccaneers visited University of Phoenix Stadium last season in the second game of the year, they were greeted with a kick to the teeth by the Arizona Cardinals in the form of a 40-7 rout that led to a three-game losing streak that ultimately cost them a shot at making the playoffs.
"They just physically got after us and we turned it over way too many times," Buccaneers coach Dirk Koetter recalled. "They physically beat us and took advantage of our mistakes. We didn't show up to play that day and we didn't do a good job coaching, either, so we have to do a lot better job in all phases this year."
When the Cardinals (2-3) and Buccaneers (2-2) line up on Sunday, last year will immediately become a distant memory. It already is for Cardinals quarterback Carson Palmer, who threw for three touchdowns in that game and says it doesn't mean spit.
"Things change so fast from one year," he said. "Players change, schemes change, you change offensively with your own players, so I really don't look to years past. I look at the film from this year, and that's it."
In the Buccaneers, the Cardinals see a team on the rise that has reduced its turnover margin, is getting outstanding pass protection and run support from its offensive line, and has a more seasoned and poised young quarterback in Jameis Winston.
"Jameis is getting better and better each time he steps out on the field," said Cardinals safety Tyvon Branch, who leads the NFL with 49 tackles. "He's a great quarterback, man, and he's got guys on the outside like DeSean Jackson that can fly and Mike Evans, who is playing lights out. So we've got our work cut out for us and it's going to be a good game."
Sunday will be especially interesting considering it will mark Adrian Peterson's season debut with the Cardinals. The 11-year running back and three-time NFL rushing champion was acquired from the New Orleans Saints earlier in the week for a conditional sixth-round pick next year and he steps right into a starting role after being limited to third-back duty in New Orleans.
The 32-year-old Peterson was limited to 27 carries for 81 yards in four games with the Saints. In replacing fellow veteran Chris Johnson, who was released upon the trade, those rushing numbers represent more than any other Cardinals running back left on the roster.
"It means a lot. It shows that you're appreciated and that someone, an organization, believes in you and what you're able to do," Peterson said of Arizona pursuing him and immediately making him the starter.
Peterson added he has plenty left in him and he plans to prove it, saying, "I have so much left. I'd love to play at least four to five more years, God willing. I have a lot left in the tank. So stay tuned. Stay tuned and you guys will be able to see that firsthand."
Buccaneers defensive end Will Gholston isn't about to doubt Peterson. He may have only logged three practices with the Cardinals, but Peterson can still be plenty dangerous and Gholston knows it.
"It's Adrian Peterson, brother," he said. "I don't hold nothing. That's Adrian Peterson."
The Cardinals acquired Peterson in part because their running game ranks last in the league, averaging just 51.8 yards per game. That won't stop them from trying to run the ball on the Buccaneers, though.
"One thing I've learned about being in the NFL so far is when a team is struggling like that, that's something they want to get out there and prove they can do it," Gholston said. "So just because they haven't been running the ball well to everybody else's opinion doesn't mean they're not going to come out there and try to run it."
Tampa Bay discovered it may have an added attack in its own rushing game now that Doug Martin is back after serving a three-game suspension to start the year. In his season debut a week ago Thursday against the New England Patriots, Martin gained 74 yards on just 13 carries -- an average of 5.7 yards per run.
What does a healthy and motivated Martin mean to the Buccaneers' offense?
"If we're getting the Doug that we've seen at his best, and he did look good the other night in the 25 snaps that he got, it gives you an explosive back," Koetter said, adding "a back that can turn a 4-yard gain into a 12-yard gain and once in a while a 12-yard gain into a 50-yard gain."
The Cardinals, meanwhile, plan to counter with a running back off their own who has been enjoying a career renaissance thanks to his ability as a pass-catching threat.
Andre Ellington, whose job didn't appear safe entering training camp, has caught nine passes each of the past two weeks and has become one of Palmer's go-to targets on third down.
"Yeah, he's done a really good job," Palmer said. "He's extremely explosive with the ball in his hands, and I can't think of a situation he's been tackled by the first guy. He's done such a good job of getting the ball and finding a seam to hit and getting north, getting vertical very quickly.
"There's very little wasted motion or wasted steps. He catches the ball and gets downhill."
Both teams have been battling injury woes at multiple key positions.
The Buccaneers have been hit especially hard at linebacker and safety, where Kwon Alexander (hamstring), Lavonte David (ankle), Keith Tandy (hip) and T.J. Ward (hip) have each been hurting.
The Cardinals had 13 players listed on their injury report earlier in the week and nine of them were starters, including All-Pro cornerback Patrick Peterson with a sore quadriceps.
Arizona is hoping to get two starters back on the left side of their offensive line, however: tackle D.J. Humphries (knee) and guard Alex Boone (pectoral strain).
"It's going to be huge," Palmer said, keeping his fingers crossed. "The tough part about it now is that they haven't played next to each other, which is so important up there.
"Chemistry and all the things that come with playing next to a guy for a year, or six weeks, or practicing Thursday or Friday is what it's going to be this week. It's difficult.
"It's a tough thing to do, but those guys are all in, and they're excited about the chance to play next to each other."
Updated October 11, 2017