NFC West: 2013 Week 11 ARI at JAC

Carson Palmer pointed to the sky and said thanks.

It was a celebration of sorts, one to commemorate his best game as an Arizona Cardinal. But he wasn’t marking a game-winning touchdown or Michael Floyd's 91-yard pass. Palmer was basking in the afterglow of a timeout.

It was as weird of a play as it sounds.

About a split second before Palmer threw what would have been his 16th interception of the season, Cardinals coach Bruce Arians called a timeout. He saw what Palmer saw and didn’t like it either. It’s an either/or situation. Either the wrong group of players ran on the field for the play that was called, or the wrong play was called for the group already on the field.

Either way, Arians asked for time as close to the snap as possible. Before the actual timeout was given, Palmer dropped back and threw the pick. But it didn’t count and Palmer was able to keep his best game as a Cardinal interception free.

“I knew we had the wrong personnel in the field,” Palmer said. “I knew it was (a) bad play from the get-go. But I’ve been told to run what’s called, and (Arians) realized we ran the wrong group on the field and did a great job of saving my butt.”

The Cardinals’ 27-14 win against the Jaguars on Sunday was the first game this season Palmer did not throw an interception. It was fitting, considering he threw for a season-high 419 yards and two touchdowns on 30-for-42 passing with a 119 passer rating.

Palmer’s performance was the product of an offense that has finally come together. An improved offensive line has led to an improved running game, which has improved the pass attack. And this was the result.

“We did a good job up front and had some nice time in the pocket,” Palmer said. “I had a really clean pocket for the most part, stepped into a lot of throws. I thought we executed very well in the second half, and guys made some big plays. It was a must-win, and we got the job done.”

Palmer hit nine different receivers in the first quarter for 101 yards and kept rolling from there. He had 108 in the second and 176 in the third, which featured Floyd’s 91-yard pass, a career high for Palmer. Palmer's third quarter Sunday was the third-highest quarter of his career. To finish it off, Palmer had just 34 in the fourth.

“I thought Carson had the best look on his face all week in practice and in this ballgame about what we were trying to get done and what they were doing to us,” Arians said.

Defense recovers to slow Jags to crawl

November, 17, 2013
It had been 329 days since the Jacksonville Jaguars last scored a touchdown inside the empty confines of EverBank Field.

It had been even longer since the Jags won there.

When the Arizona Cardinals made the cross-country trip this weekend, trading in desert sunshine for beach rays, they would’ve rather both of those streaks continue another week, but if one had to end, they preferred the former rather than the latter. And it did, probably earlier than anyone expected.

The Jags scored on their first two drives Sunday, putting the Cardinals in a seven-point hole after the first quarter. But that’s all Jacksonville would get. After getting 111 yards in the first quarter, the Jags managed just 163 for the rest of the game.

“We knew once we settled down a little bit and they got rid of the gimmicks, they had to play football,” linebacker Karlos Dansby said. “In the second half we were ready to play football and we took over the game. We played hard, sound and fast. Once we got past all the gimmicks, the tricks they had up their sleeve, they had to come back to reality.”

Jacksonville skipped the conventional plays and went to the gimmicks to start the game and it worked. They also took advantage of one of the Cardinals’ only liabilities: covering tight ends.

Chad Henne’s first three completions -- including a 62-yard touchdown – were all to tight ends. After a raucous first quarter, the Cardinals settled down on defense, especially up front. Arizona held Jacksonville to just 13 yards through three quarters, eliminating Maurice Jones-Drew as a threat. It forced the Jags to take to the air enough times that defensive tackle Darnell Dockett said after the game that he expected the Jags to run more.

But after Henne threw for 105 yards in the first quarter he tossed for just 150 the rest of the game.

“I thought we did a great job against the passing game,” cornerback Patrick Peterson said. “This is the most screens I’ve ever seen in my life in one game so I believe it’s a credit to our defensive coordinator, our secondary.”

Floyd breaks out with career day

November, 17, 2013
If you believe everything you see on TV, then Arizona Cardinals wide receiver Michael Floyd showed up at practice Wednesday in sneakers.

Arizona coach Bruce Arians looked at Floyd and asked if he was ready to be inactive Sunday against the Jacksonville Jaguars. A few minutes later, Floyd, who left last weekend's game with a sprained A/C joint in his right shoulder, had his cleats on and was practicing.

It's a good thing he decided to play. Floyd had a career-high 193 yards on six catches in Arizona's 27-14 win against the Jaguars.

"It comes in practice," Arians said. "We had a discussion on what is done in practice becomes his part. That's just the way it has to be for one player. Quarterbacks have to see the guys he is throwing to on Thursday, the ones he is throwing to on Sunday. This week, he probably had his best practice all season."

After an early reception, Floyd missed three straight opportunities from quarterback Carson Palmer. But Palmer wasn't concerned and didn't look past Floyd during his progressions.

"I just told him, ‘I'm coming right back at you and I expect you to make it,'" Palmer said.

Midway through the third quarter, Palmer hit Floyd from the 9-yard line. The second-year receiver came from the right, shed three Jags defenders and took off.

With an army of blockers at his side, Floyd scored a 91-yard touchdown. It was a career long for Floyd and Palmer.

"It was the coverage that we wanted," Floyd said. "The safety bit down on the play action and Carson made a heck of a throw. I made a couple of guys miss and we scored a touchdown. You give me a little bit of space and I just try to break the tackles. With my big frame, I should be able to make catches that not all guys can. I expect a lot out of me."

It's not just Floyd who expects a lot out of himself. Arians and Palmer do, too.

Palmer has watched Floyd develop throughout the season, through practice and the time he puts in on the field. He knew it was a matter of time before Floyd would break out.

It was supposed to happen last week, Arians said, because Houston played a lot of single coverage, but Floyd's injury curtailed that. Floyd came out Thursday and Friday ready to work and get back on the field Sunday.

"I am very happy for him that it showed up in this game," Arians said.

Rapid Reaction: Arizona Cardinals

November, 17, 2013

A few thoughts on the Arizona Cardinals' 27-14 victory against the Jacksonville Jaguars.

What it means: The Cardinals will hear it all week: Sure they won handily, but they beat the Jaguars. It doesn’t matter who Arizona played, what mattered was the Cards didn’t play down to their opponent's level. They started out sluggish, which has become the status quo, but both the offense and defense found a rhythm. Carson Palmer topped 400 yards passing for the first time since Nov. 4, 2012. After allowing the Jags to score their first two touchdowns of the season at home, the Cards' defense held the Jags to just 32 yards on the ground. Sunday’s win was more of a mental boost than anything. It showed that Arizona could win when it needed to, despite a few hiccups. And the offense proved it’s truly coming along to complement a stout defense.

Stock Watch: Michael Floyd was questionable heading into Sunday’s game, and all he did was set a career high with 193 receiving yards, including a 91-yard touchdown catch in the third quarter. His previous high was 166 yards last season against San Francisco, but this is the game Floyd needed. He’s played well, but hasn’t shown that breakout ability that comes with being a first-round pick. The Cards needed Floyd to show he’s capable of being a first option, because too many teams are doubling or bracketing receiver Larry Fitzgerald.

Injured gunners: While their offense was clicking, the Cardinals’ special teams took a major blow when both their gunners went down with injuries. In the first half, Justin Bethel left the game with a concussion and didn’t return. Then in the third quarter, Teddy Williams went down with an Achilles injury and was carted off the field. The Cards’ punt coverage suffered when Bethel went down, then it was rendered almost obsolete without Williams. That could be a turning point for the Cards, who have relied on Bethel to get to punt returners quickly.

Another option: The play calling early in the first quarter was telling for how far the offense has come. Palmer looked for his tight ends early and often, and it helped stretch the Jaguars’ defense. Rob Housler had a season-high 70 yards, Jake Ballard had one catch for 29 yards, and Jim Dray add 18 yards on two catches.

What's next: The Cardinals host Indianapolis next Sunday at University of Phoenix Stadium.