Instead, he dropped three passes, according to Pro Football Focus, leaving Cardinals coach Bruce Arians concerned about the typically sure-handed tight end.
“Because the guy’s got great hands,” Arians said.
Carlson isn’t as worried as his head coach was. He’s been targeted 32 times this season, according to ESPN Stats & Information and has five drops, per PFF. It’s the third time he’s had five drops in a season, but he’s on pace to finish 2014 with a new career high.
The free-agent acquisition couldn’t pin-point what caused the dropped passes, but he was able to rule out what it wasn’t.
“Obviously, I’m trying to catch the ball,” Carlson said. “It’s not intention or mental preparation or anything of that sort. That’s our job to make plays when the ball comes our ways. I didn’t do that well enough on Sunday.”
The first drop, on first-and-10 early in the second quarter, would’ve been a tough catch in the end zone, but Carlson came back for Carson Palmer’s pass and it goes through his hands.
Carlson’s second drop, which came on second-and-10 with about 7 minutes left in the second quarter, was the toughest to catch of the three because he had to dive for it, but the ball still went off his hands.
“I was trying to sling it out to him and just didn’t give him a good enough chance to make a play on the ball,” Palmer said. “It gets labeled a drop but there is a lot of that goes into drops -- ball placement, ball speed, timing. I had to move around the pocket and threw the ball behind him. I don’t look at that.
“John is a vital part of this offense. He’s been phenomenal. He’s always a threat. He’s great in the run game, great in the pass game, and I hope to get him the ball.”
Carlson’s third drop, which happened a couple minutes later, was set up to be his easiest chance at a touchdown. Had Carlson made the catch on a tight-end screen, he had two blockers ahead of him and a clear path to the end zone.
“That was an issue for me on Sunday,” Carlson said. “That’s frustrating. I don’t know that you change the way you prepare, approach things. It’s just concentration and catching the ball, as coach said.”
When he was asked how to squeeze more production out of his tight ends, who combined for just two catches for 19 yards -- all by Carlson -- in 88 combined snaps against the Cowboys, Arians’ message was succinct: “Catch the ball. They dropped [three] of them. If you drop them, you aren’t getting them. Catch them.”
As a team, the Cardinals have 14 dropped passes this season, according to Pro Football Focus. Palmer said they’re just part of the game.
Earlier this season, Arians said he wouldn't make much out of drops because he doesn’t want his players thinking about them in practice. He affirmed he won’t stray from that mindset after Arizona dropped five passes in Dallas.
“They’ve been eliminated in practice for the majority,” Arians said. “It’s the same thing. If it’s just one guy, you’d replace him.”
Carlson, who’s in his sixth season but missed 2011 because of a torn labrum in his shoulder, said it’s possible to overthink his drops, but he claimed it wasn’t a mental issue. And he’s not concerned about Sunday’s drops snowballing into this weekend and beyond.
“That hasn’t really ever been an issue,” Carlson said. “It’s just about preparing, executing, doing your job at practice. It starts in here [the locker room], you got to know what to do first, you got to be in the right position, you got to get open when the time calls.”