GLENDALE, Ariz. -- There was no way the Tampa Bay Buccaneers could have possibly stumbled as badly as they did in last year's 40-7 loss to the Arizona Cardinals, right? There was no way they could possibly deliver another disaster in the desert, two years in a row.
They knew what was coming all week -- that future Hall of Fame running back Adrian Peterson, who'd been under-utilized by the New Orleans Saints -- would get to the second level with ease if they didn't fit their gaps and tackle well.
They also knew that quarterback Carson Palmer and another future Hall of Famer, wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald could still push the ball downfield and torture secondaries despite their combined age of 71 years.
At one point, the Bucs were down 31-0. A late, late comeback that began at the end of the third quarter allowed the Bucs to finish this with a respectable 38-33 score, but in reality, the defense was downright awful.
"It's our fault. I don't care what our offense does," said defensive tackle Gerald McCoy, who finished with two combined tackles, a sack a tackle for a loss and three quarterback hurries. "Yeah, I take it personal. 31 points? Our goal is to hold them to 19."
"We couldn't stop the run," coach Dirk Koetter added. "We couldn't run the ball. We couldn't tackle. We couldn't block. We couldn't do anything right."
Once Peterson had established himself as a viable threat after the first few carries, linebackers and safeties were consistently biting on play-action, allowing Palmer to have a field day with a Bucs' secondary that had shown significant year-over-year improvement but appeared confused throughout much of the game. It didn't help that there was zero pressure up front.
"We just didn't tackle," said McCoy. "Adrian did what we always does. He finds the hole, he finds the one-on-one with any player, defensive lineman, linebacker or defensive back. He finds a one-on-one and does his best to win it. That is what he did today. It wasn't just straight downhill -- he was doing a lot of bouncing."
Last week, the Bucs held a league-best New England Patriots' offense to just 19 points. They also had the league's eighth-best rushing defense entering Sunday's game against the Cardinals, allowing just 87 rushing yards per game. In Glendale, they surrendered that by the end of the first half.
"You have to fit your gaps," Koetter said. "Adrian Peterson ran hard. He ran through some tackles, but we have been a team that has stopped the run and today in the first half, we couldn't stop it."
It seems unfathomable that the Bucs could lose this horribly two years in a row. Tight end Cameron Brate talked about how difficult the plane ride was home last year. Koetter said earlier this week that last year's loss was the type that keeps him up at night. And yet it still happened. Again.
Peterson finished the game with 134 rushing yards on 26 carries with two touchdowns. Fitzgerald had 10 catches on 11 targets for 138 receiving yards and a touchdown.
"I can't tell you how disappointed and embarrassed I am at the way we played through the first two quarters and the first two series of the third quarter," said Koetter. "I obviously did a horrible job getting these guys ready to play, because that was the worst first half of football I've ever seen in my life."
It was so bad that Palmer went 13-for-13 passing in the first half with a perfect 158.3 quarterback rating. He finished the game 18-of-22 for 283 passing yards, three touchdowns and an interception from cornerback Brent Grimes, one of two takeaways from the Bucs defense.
The other takeaway came from linebacker Lavonte David, who jarred the ball loose from Fitzgerald, scooped it up and ran it 21 yards to score in the fourth quarter. It was his second forced fumble of the game. The Bucs needed that kind of play in the first half.
Explosive plays are a key metric on both offense and defense. The Bucs wound up giving up 11 explosive plays -- run plays of 12 yards or more and pass plays of 16 yards or more -- tying their season-high that they had against the Minnesota Vikings in Week 3.
By comparison, against the New York Giants, the Bucs gave up six explosive plays. Against the Patriots, they gave up nine. This number should not be trending upward, even though they've played the top two passing teams in the league in back-to-back weeks. That's not how a team establishes itself as a formidable threat in this league.
"When we look at it on film, we will figure out a lot of stuff," said Grimes, who led the Bucs with eight combined tackles Sunday. "It just wasn't good, it wasn't good. We never want to put anything like that on film out there. It sucks. We can out to show we can compete today, we came out in the second half and fought to the end but it wasn't enough."
This is Bucs team that finished 9-7 last year and has drawn reasonable expectations of reaching the playoffs in 2017. But right now at 2-3, their only wins have come against teams that are a combined 3-9. They haven't even gotten into division play either, which begins in two weeks when the red-hot Carolina Panthers come to town.
"[We're] 2-3 but could easily be 5-0. Easily," McCoy said. "We just beat ourselves way too much. Way too much. The teams that we have lost to have done what they were supposed to do when they needed to do it. But we hurt ourselves way too much."