TAMPA, Fla. — The way the St. Louis Cardinals look at it, they owe their season to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
The Cardinals kept their playoff chances alive Sunday with a 31-14 victory over the Buccaneers, handing Tampa Bay its seventh straight defeat.
St. Louis (7-7) was 2-5 and going nowhere with three straight losses before staging the greatest fourth-quarter comeback in NFL history to defeat Tampa Bay, 31-28, on Nov. 8 at St. Louis.
"The (first) game against Tampa turned around our season and I guess it turned around theirs," said Neil Lomax, who threw three touchdown passes for the Cardinals Sunday. "This has been a year of accomplishments and we've made quite a step in one year."
To make the playoffs, the Cardinals need a victory next Sunday in Dallas coupled with a loss by Minnesota to Dallas in Minneapolis and a loss by the Rams in one of their last two games.
St. Louis spotted Tampa Bay (4-10) a 7-0 lead before scoring 31 straight points.
"I'm mad as hell and trying not to create a scene," Tampa Bay Coach Ray Perkins said. "There were far too many mistakes and our films will reveal things we don't like to see."
Lomax completed 22 of 29 passes for 233 yards, including scoring passes of 15 yards to Jay Novacek, 8 yards to J.T. Smith and 5 yards to Robert Awalt.
Stump Mitchell, who rushed for 101 yards, scored on a three-yard run and Al Del Greco added a 28-yard field goal.
"The chances of us getting back to .500 was slim," St. Louis Coach Gene Stallings said. "We had to overcome a bunch of obstacles, but we have a good bunch of people."
Tampa Bay rookie Vinny Testaverde flipped a one-yard scoring pass to rookie tight end Ron Hall on Tampa Bay's opening possession of the game, but the first pick in the NFL draft managed only 16 completions in 38 attempts for 240 yards. The 1986 Heisman Trophy winner was sacked six times and intercepted twice.
Testaverde threw for 140 of his yards after the Cardinals went ahead, 31-7, on Mitchell's run at 2:28 of the final period, adding a 26-yard scoring pass to Gerald Carter with 45 seconds left.
James Wilder ran for 80 yards in 10 carries as the Buccaneers topped the 100-yard rushing mark for the first time in eight weeks.