Adrian Peterson came to Arizona a few days ago insisting that, at age 32, he still has a lot left to give in the National Football League.
On Sunday, it sure looked that way.
The four-time All-Pro running back rushed for two touchdowns and 134 yards, and the Cardinals held off a furious second-half rally to beat the Tampa Bay Buccaneers 38-33.
“This is the opportunity I’ve been waiting for,” Peterson said.
The Buccaneers (2-3) lost quarterback Jameis Winston to a right shoulder injury in the second quarter, with the Cardinals (3-3) leading 21-0.
But backup Ryan Fitzpatrick threw for 290 yards and three touchdowns to bring Tampa Bay back from a 31-0, early third-quarter deficit.
Fitzpatrick’s 37-yard touchdown pass to Mike Evans cut the Arizona lead to 38-32 with 2:02 to play.
Larry Fitzgerald recovered the onside kick and, with no Tampa Bay timeouts remaining, the Cardinals ran out the clock.
“There’s no lead big enough in the National Football League,” Arizona coach Bruce Arians said. “We shouldn’t be biting our nails off to get that onside kick. You have to keep your foot on the gas.”
Arizona’s offense, and the home crowd, were energized by Peterson’s presence.
“That first drive you could feel it with the fans in the stadium,” Cardinals quarterback Carson Palmer said. “You could kind of see it on the defense’s face. It was just a great lift for us.”
Palmer completed his first 14 passes and finished 18 of 22 for 283 yards and three touchdowns with one interception. Fitzgerald caught 10 passes for 138 yards and a score.
Arians called it “a day for the old guys.”
Palmer is 37, Fitzgerald 34.
Peterson, acquired in a trade with New Orleans on Tuesday, carried 26 times and scored on a 27-yard run to cap Arizona’s first possession. He added a 1-yard TD run after Tramon Williams’ interception near the goal line in the fourth quarter.
Peterson gained 47 more yards on Sunday than the 87 he had in four games with the Saints.
“A couple of times he almost ripped my shoulder out of the joint just handing the ball off to him,” Palmer said. “He’s just so powerful.”
Arizona ran for 160 yards after averaging 52 yards rushing through five games, by far the worst in the league. Of course, the Cardinals are without the versatile but injured David Johnson.
Peterson and Fitzgerald are good friends. He’s been staying in Fitzgerald’s guest house.
“We’ve seen this movie before,” Fitzgerald said of Peterson’s performance. “… You give him a little alley, give him a little bit of space and he’s going to do the rest.”
Peterson had a 45-yard run called back because of an illegal use of hands penalty. On the next play, Fitzgerald fumbled and Lavonte David returned it 21 yards for a touchdown. The two-point conversion cut the Arizona lead to 31-20 with 12:56 to play.
Winston was hurt in the first quarter, tried to stay in the game but eventually couldn’t.
He said he’s had the injury before.
“I’ll be back soon,” Winston said.
The Cardinals opened the game with touchdown drives of 76, 86 and 95 yards, the first time they’ve started with three consecutive TDs since 2006, when Kurt Warner was at the controls.
On the game’s first play, Peterson gained 8 yards. He followed with runs of 8 and 11 yards, then broke free over the left side for a 27-yard touchdown run.
On the next drive, Palmer threw 29 yards to Fitzgerald and Peterson had an 11-yard run to the Tampa Bay 14 before the Arizona quarterback connected on a 14-yard TD pass to tight end Troy Niklas.
The third touchdown drive was kept alive by an offside penalty against the Buccaneers on third down, Palmer throwing 11 yards to Fitzgerald for a touchdown to put Arizona up 21-0.
The Cardinals led 24-0 at the half.
“I obviously did a horrible job of getting these guys ready to play,” Tampa Bay coach Dirk Koetter said, “because that was the worst first half of football I’ve ever seen.”
Buccaneers: Winston left the field early in the second quarter after throwing three consecutive incomplete passes. Koetter said X-rays were negative. An MRI was planned on Monday.
Cardinals: Cornerback Patrick Peterson left with a quadriceps injury in the fourth quarter. Defensive lineman Xavier Williams left with a knee injury in the third quarter.
Buccaneers: Tampa Bay plays at Buffalo next Sunday.
Cardinals: Arizona leaves Monday for London, where it will face the Los Angeles Rams next Sunday.
With Jameis Winston Hurt, Cardinals Hold Off Buccaneers 38-33. Arizona’s offense was energized by Peterson’s presence. Adrian Peterson scored twice.