TEMPE, Ariz. -- Until the 4-minute, 46-second mark of the third quarter Sunday in Jacksonville, Arizona quarterback Carson Palmer was playing mistake-free football.
He was en route to 419 yards in the air, by far his best day as a Cardinal, and already had two touchdown passes. Everything seemed to be going Palmer’s way, so when the wrong personnel group jogged on the field for a second-and-10 play as the clocked ticked down from 5:34, Palmer was concerned but he knew he had to run the play that was called.
As soon as Cardinals coach Bruce Arians made the call into Palmer’s headset, he second-guessed himself.
“I don’t normally do that,” Arians said.
The offense, which was starting its ninth drive of the game inside its own 30, was starting to frustrate Arians. He wanted to flip the field quickly.
Rooking running back Andre Ellington was in the backfield and two receivers were out wide.
With the Cardinals at their own 10, Palmer, in shotgun, dropped back to his own goal line and targeted receiver Larry Fitzgerald. But six Jags defenders surrounded Fitzgerald and Palmer’s pass was intercepted by linebacker Russell Allen, who stepped in front of Fitzgerald.
Allen and his teammates celebrated.
Palmer looked dejected for the 16th time this season.
Then the referees interjected. Arians had called a timeout a split-second before the snap but the official next to Arians couldn’t find his whistle in time to blow the play dead.
“He did run in and stop the play, because I called timeout a little quicker than what it looked like, and they let the play continue,” Arians said. “It was one of those gut feelings it was going to be the wrong thing happen at that time.
“Fortunately, for me, we got it stopped.”
After the game, Palmer said he just looked to the sky and thanked the man upstairs. Arizona kept the ball, even though the Cardinals ended up punting a few plays later.
But what was wrong with Arians' call?
“It wasn’t the right guys for that play,” he said. “It wasn’t the right time, second-and-long, for that play. It was more of a first-down call. It looked like they were going to be in a two-deep zone and that’s not what we wanted.”
The deep ball has been one of the Arians’ mainstays throughout his career. It was one of the cornerstones of his introductory speech in January. He wanted to use six “bullets,” or long balls, every game. The season hasn’t panned out as Arians planned and the deep ball was often taken away. After Sunday's game, Arizona has completed just 25 passes of 20 yards or longer.
Because of that, Arians has been playing a game of internal tug-of-war on throwing the deep ball. In the second quarter on Sunday, Arians called for a pass ball from the 3. It went for 14 yards to tight Rob Housler. Against the Jags, the Cards had six deep balls ranging from 21 to 91 yards.
“It seemed like we were stuck down there the whole second half and weren’t able to flip field position until we got the interception,” Arians said. “At times it gets frustrating because you have to be careful and not lose your patience and lose the football game.”