When the Arizona Cardinals sent a conditional sixth-round pick to the New Orleans Saints last week in exchange for Adrian Peterson, reactions around the NFL were measured.

Though Peterson is one of the best running backs of all time, age seems to have caught up with him this year. He struggled in a limited role for the Saints, compiling just 81 yards.

ESPN football writer Bill Barnwell called the move “low-risk desperation,” for the Cardinals, a team that was built to win but sputtered to a 2-3 record to start the year.

Almost nobody dared to believe Peterson might return to the heights of his time in Minnesota, where he won the 2012 Most Valuable Player Award and nearly broke the all-time single-season rushing record.

Yet on Sunday, Peterson was back to his old self, scampering for 134 yards and two touchdowns on 26 carries, compared to the 27 total he received in four games combined with the Saints.

The Cardinals came away with a crucial 38-33 victory against the Buccaneers, and the sense in Phoenix is that Peterson may be exactly what the doctor ordered.

The Cardinals are two seasons removed from an NFC Championship appearance in a year in which they won 13 regular season games. However, the team sputtered to a 7-8-1 record last year behind atrocious special teams play and a regression from veteran quarterback Carson Palmer.

That trend had continued early this season.

Though Palmer was effective when he had time in the pocket, the injury-riddled offensive line allowed way too much pressure. Coupled with the disappearance of the Cardinals’ running game when star running back David Johnson was sidelined with a dislocated wrist, the Cardinals lacked any offensive firepower. That all changed in an instant against the Buccaneers.

Part of the revival must surely be attributed to the health of the offensive line.

Starting left tackle D.J. Humphries and left guard Alex Boone came back this week  from injury, and inexperienced right guard Evan Boehm was replaced by the veteran Earl Watford, who had seen action in Arizona before. These changes, along with the sheer enthusiasm and energy Peterson brought to the game, took the Buccaneers’ defense by surprise. Indeed, Peterson’s first four carries were for 54 yards, including a 27-yard touchdown.

And while running the ball was important, perhaps the biggest effect Peterson had was in the passing game. With Tampa Bay struggling to contain the run, their safeties moved closer to the line of scrimmage, opening up room for Palmer to attack on play action. The 37-year-old quarterback started the game with 12 straight completions and ended with an impressive 283 yards passing and three touchdowns. He faced much less pressure, partially because of the healthier offensive line but also because of the room that the running game opened up. The main beneficiary was ageless wonder Larry Fitzgerald, who had 10 catches for 138 yards and a score.

Make no mistake: The revitalized Cardinals’ offense is not simply a one-week wonder.

While Tampa Bay’s defense is not particularly strong, and other teams will surely adjust, the fundamental flexibility that Arizona now has in its attack makes it difficult to defend.

Prior to Sunday, the path to beating the Cardinals had been clear: Pressure Palmer, early and often.

Although that is still an effective tactic, it is much harder to do against a smash-mouth  rushing attack that   tires defenders and makes pass-rush specialists ineffective. If Arizona can maintain a balanced offensive attack and keep Palmer upright in the pocket, this team has a much higher ceiling than many experts were predicting just a week ago.

Perhaps General Manager Steve Keim’s act of low-risk desperation has paid off, as the desert seems to be the perfect place for Peterson.

Ryan McCoy is a senior in the School of Foreign Service. “GM’s CORNER” appears in print every other Friday. 

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