TAMPA — Heading into Sunday’s matchup with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, new Arizona Cardinals coach Bruce Arians sounds like a man intrigued by the game within the game.
On the Tampa Bay sideline stands Darrelle Revis, perhaps the NFL’s best cover cornerback since Deion Sanders. His counterpart is wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald, who has more catches through his first 143 games (779) than any player in NFL history, including Jerry Rice.
“You’re talking about two guys with about $200 million between the two of them,’’ Arians said of the anticipated duel. “They ought to put on a show. They can’t cancel each other out ... nobody wants to see that. I think they’ll both win some and lose some.’’
The only other time Revis faced the Cardinals, he intercepted two Kurt Warner passes in 2008, returning one for a 32-yard touchdown as the Jets won 56-35. Fitzgerald caught eight passes for 122 yards.
“Every week is an opportunity,’’ said Revis, acquired from New York in an April trade that cost the Bucs a first-round draft choice. “I know Larry very well, I know him personally. It’s cool. It’s competition.’’
A few years ago, Revis and Fitzgerald participated together in an ad campaign for Nike.
On Sunday, we’ll find out who can just do it.
“Will they be on each other all the time? Probably not,’’ Bucs coach Greg Schiano said. “But when they are, you are talking about two Hall of Famers, so it should be exciting.’’
Former Tampa Bay cornerback Ronde Barber, who now works as a Fox analyst, said the Cardinals routinely move Fitzgerald around the field to create matchup problems.
“Arias told me Larry will be in the slot as much as he is outside,’’ said Barber, who worked Arizona’s 27-24 loss at St. Louis in Week 1. “I don’t know that Revis matches guys inside.’’
Through three games, Revis appears completely recovered from October knee surgery. He shadowed Marques Colston of the Saints for much of the Week 2 matchup, but Fitzgerald is a unique talent, a 6-foot-3, 218-pound target skilled in shielding off defenders.
“Obviously we want to see some more production, but it’s been great,’’ said new quarterback Carson Palmer, who has hooked up with Fitzgerald 15 times during Arizona’s 1-2 start. “When the ball is going to his side of the field, it’s been completed just about every time, it seems like.’’
Fitzgerald, 30, already has more career receptions than 18 of the 22 receivers in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. This will be Fitzgerald’s first game in Raymond James Stadium since he caught a pair of scoring passes from Warner in a thrilling Super Bowl loss to Pittsburgh in 2009.
“No, I don’t have any good memories from this stadium at all,’’ said Fitzgerald, whose current streak of 133 consecutive games with at least one catch ranks second in the league to Atlanta tight end Tony Gonzalez (196).
Because Tampa Bay plays a variety of coverages, it’s doubtful Revis will follow Fitzgerald all over the field.
“Like we’ve done in the past, we’re going to use Darrelle in different kinds of ways,’’ Bucs defensive coordinator Bill Sheridan said. “But that’s exactly why you have a guy like that, to cover the other team’s top receiver.’’
Although they are 0-3, the Bucs have played solid pass defense a year after yielding the most passing yards in the league.
The additions of Revis and safety Dashon Goldson have fortified the secondary and a revived pass rush could make things difficult for Palmer and Fitzgerald, who has been nursing a sore hamstring.
“I’ve played him before, a couple of years ago, and I’m excited he’s healthy, I’m excited he’s back,’’ Revis said. “It’s going to be fun whoever I line up against. You never know, I might not line up on Larry.”
If that’s the case, rookie Johnthan Banks or second-year pro Leonard Johnson will draw the assignment of containing a seven-time Pro Bowler.
“He’s a tremendous football player,’’ Schiano said. “Not just a tremendous receiver — he’s a football player. He loves the game and he plays determined. He’s not the fastest guy in the NFL, but the guy makes plays that are unbelievable.’’