NFL Nation: Carson Palmer

PHOENIX -- Arizona Cardinals quarterback Carson Palmer is two months removed from surgery to repair his left ACL and is already “so far” ahead of schedule, coach Bruce Arians said.

Palmer
Arians said on SiriusXM NFL Radio from the Senior Bowl in Mobile, Alabama, that Palmer could return to the field by spring.

“He’s hoping to be back for the mandatory minicamp,” Arians said Tuesday. “I wouldn’t put it past him to be to be out there in some of the OTAs.”

A typical recovery from an ACL surgery can take anywhere from six to nine months, depending on a few factors including age and severity of the injury. Palmer was initially expected to return in June or July.

Arians also said backup quarterback Drew Stanton “should be ready to go” after a right knee injury caused him to miss the last three games of the season, including Arizona’s wild card loss.
 
CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- With every incomplete pass, with every interception, with every empty run, the minutes ticked away, bringing the Arizona Cardinals closer to next season.

And next season couldn’t come soon enough.

The Cardinals entered Saturday’s wild-card game against the Carolina Panthers with their third-string quarterback, two former practice-squad running backs and a former college basketball player turned tight end on offense.

And it showed.

[+] EnlargeRyan Lindley
AP Photo/Chuck BurtonRyan Lindley and the Cardinals had just 13 total yards in the second half against Carolina.
 The Cardinals walked out of the rain at Bank of America Stadium with the fewest offensive yards (78) in NFL postseason history and a 27-16 loss to the Panthers. Even though -- in a weird twist of fate only the playoff gods could come up with -- quarterback Ryan Lindley, on a pass to Darren Fells, and running back Marion Grice, who both started the year on San Diego’s practice squad, scored both of Arizona’s touchdowns in the first half.

The misfits led Arizona to a 14-13 lead at the intermission. In the end, however, Lindley showed he wasn’t Carson Palmer, and neither Grice nor Kerwynn Williams, another practice-squad running back, were Andre Ellington. The Cardinals gained 13 yards in the second half.

Yet, Cardinals coach Bruce Arians said he didn’t believe his team ran out of players.

“We have to make game plans to win games and ask players to do things we think they are capable of doing to win games,” Arians said. “I never buy into injuries losing games.”

But they did. And they lost a season.

The Cardinals started 9-1, winning a game after Palmer was lost for the season with a torn ACL in his left knee. But they limped to the finish at 2-4 and hobbled into the playoffs. The hot start, however, got them to the wild-card round Saturday afternoon.

And those few hours, under a bit of rain and a misting fog, could be the best thing to happen to this team when they get their injured teammates back.

“Everyone [will] remember the feeling, right now, to make it and come up short in the first game,” left tackle Jared Veldheer said. “It’s tough. Especially, you’re in here and hear hooting and hollering outside.

“Just feels like a bunch of salt in the wound. It’s tough. I think if we know what we need to do and come back strong and have that experience to be able to make that run and not fall short.”

Veldheer said it didn’t matter who started in Palmer’s place, losing him was tough.

Arizona has eight players on injured reserve, including it starting quarterback, tailback, defensive end, defensive tackle and punter. There’s also a tight end (Troy Niklas), whose role in the offense would have grown, and a defensive tackle (Ed Stinson) who would be Darnell Dockett’s replacement if he’s not brought back next year.

But the offseason will be among the most critical in the franchise’s history.

A decision will be made on Larry Fitzgerald’s future. He is due an $8 million roster bonus in March and carries a $23.5 million cap hit next season. Dockett’s future will also be decided because the 33-year-old will be earning $6.8 million with a $9.8 million cap number. Arizona will also await the future of suspended linebacker Daryl Washington, who could receive another four- to six-game suspension for violating the league’s personal conduct policy in 2013.

Give Arians and general manager Steve Keim another draft to continue to mold the roster and stock the positions they need to win, and the playoffs -- and another 9-1 start or better -- will be expected.

“We definitely have a lot to build on,” Fitzgerald said. “We were decimated by injuries this year, losing a lot of our key components to make our team go, and we didn’t ever make that an excuse.

“But, obviously, it’d have been great to have those guys on our team. And coming out to the offseason, we’re going to be able to get some guys healthy and be able to hopefully make a good run again next year.”
Carson Palmer, Drew Stanton, Ryan Lindley Getty ImagesRyan Lindley, right, will start his third game after the Cardinals lost Carson Palmer and Drew Stanton to injuries.
TEMPE, Ariz. -- What Bruce Arians has done this season -- playing four quarterbacks and making it to the playoffs -- has been impressive, daunting and worthy of his second coach of the year award in three seasons.

It isn’t new to the Arizona Cardinals' head coach. But it’s not exactly old hat, either.

After years of working with Peyton Manning, Ben Roethlisberger and Andrew Luck, Arians has been forced to play four different quarterbacks in one season twice in the past few seasons.

The other time was in 2010, when he was the offensive coordinator of the Pittsburgh Steelers. The circumstances this season have been different, though.

The Steelers, coming off a 9-7 season, headed into 2010 knowing Roethlisberger would be suspended six games for violating the NFL’s personal conduct policy. (His ban was later reduced to four games.) Arians spent training camp that year pulling double duty. He was preparing Roethlisberger for the long haul while also getting Byron Leftwich ready to be the starter in Roethlisberger’s absence. The two split first-team reps while Dennis Dixon, then a third-year quarterback out of Oregon, was the third-stringer.

Veteran Charlie Batch was also in camp but wasn't getting many reps. Batch had been a Steeler since 2002, watching Arians move from wide receivers coach to offensive coordinator. He knew Arians’ offense as well as anyone else on the roster, including Roethlisberger. Batch wanted a chance to show he was worthy of being considered for a roster spot.

“I kind of took it as, maybe since I know the offense, he has enough confidence in me. If something were to happen, I don’t need the reps,” Batch remembered. “I’m like, I need the reps to make sure I have an opportunity to make the team.”

He was given six reps in the Steelers’ first preseason game, didn’t play in the second and then played in the final 10 minutes of the all-important third preseason game, throwing a 7-yard touchdown to Antonio Brown with 7:11 left. Batch thought that touchdown was his last of the preseason -- that Leftwich, Roethlisberger’s replacement, would get the majority of reps in the preseason finale, followed by Dixon, his backup.

That plan changed early in the second quarter in the last preseason game when Leftwich sprained his left knee and left the game. With that, Dixon became the Steelers’ starter, and Batch, who had been the fourth-string quarterback all training camp, became the backup. Dixon finished the drive on which Leftwich got hurt, and Batch took over and finished the game.

[+] EnlargeBruce Arians and Ben Roethlisberger
AP Photo/Gene PuskarBruce Arians had to work with four quarterbacks in the starting lineup as offensive coordinator of the Steelers during their Super Bowl season in 2010.
Dixon’s starting role lasted about two weeks. At the beginning of the second quarter against Tennessee in Week 2, Dixon injured his left knee and left the game, sending Batch into the game without time to warm up, he remembered, and into the starting lineup for the next two games.

He went 2-1 before handing the Steelers back to Roethlisberger, who took them to the Super Bowl, which they lost to Green Bay.

When Batch took over, the offense had not changed much from when Roethlisberger was the starter.

“One thing about Bruce is the fact that what you get in training camp is the same thing you’re going to see in the course of a game,” Batch said. “He’s going to be aggressive in his play calling. You have to know the system. If he doesn’t trust that you know the system, you won’t be around.”

But if Arians does trust a quarterback, he’ll turn to him in a time of need. And there have been plenty of those in Arizona this season.

This season's Cardinals lost Palmer for three games after he suffered a nerve injury in his right shoulder during Week 1. He returned in Week 6, only to tear his ACL in Week 10. Drew Stanton, who was Palmer's backup, went down with a knee injury in Week 15.

Enter Ryan Lindley, who started the last two games of the regular season and will start Saturday’s wild-card game at Carolina. Thrown into the mix was rookie Logan Thomas, who played the final quarter and a half in Week 5 at Denver when Stanton suffered a concussion.

“The biggest thing with that situation is kind of the same thing here,” said Cardinals offensive coordinator Harold Goodwin, who was an offensive assistant in Pittsburgh in 2010. “BA doesn’t change his philosophy. He wants to run it some, and he’s going to put the ball down the field. I think the biggest thing there, we had a great defense, kind of like we have here. Guys just bought into what we were doing. Everybody believed in the defense.

“That was a magical season because when you get situations like that, you got to have some things go your way. We’ve had that this season.”

The two major differences between 2010 and 2014? Pittsburgh got its starter back for the bulk of the season (Arizona did not), and Pittsburgh’s injuries all happened in the beginning of the season and Roethlisberger returned in Week 5.

“It’s sort of the same mindset here: It was just, we don’t care,” said Cardinals linebacker Larry Foote, who played for Pittsburgh from 2002 to 2008 and then from 2010 to '13. “With Drew, when he came in and went to New York and won, and we saw him beat San Francisco, we didn’t mind.

“With Lindley, we know he can throw the ball.”

Getting his backup quarterbacks ready to play has been as simple as Arians just keeping them prepared, Batch said. During practice, Arians has been known to begin quizzing his quarterbacks, asking them to recite progressions and identify protections.

With the exception of Thomas, whom Arians named the starter before he changed his mind a couple of days later leading into Week 17, Arizona’s backups have been ready to take the field at a moment’s notice.

“It’s been crazy,” Lindley said. “There is no way to think of it, just to be thankful, not only with this game but with the opportunity I find myself in right now. It’s such a blessing from God. Starting off, not really knowing how much longer I get to be in the National Football League in September, to be honest. It’s been a journey, but I’m excited to be here.

“Going through these valleys and these peaks is what makes you really appreciate not only life but the game itself.”

TEMPE, Ariz. -- Ryan Lindley is in one of those unique positions that can define a career.

If he leads the Arizona Cardinals to a win in their wild-card game Saturday against the Carolina Panthers, the third-year quarterback who has a 1-5 career record as a starter will join a rare, but not-so-distinguished club: He would become the third quarterback since the NFL merger in 1970 to win a playoff game with one or fewer regular-season wins, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.

“I think it would be a great story, obviously, if they could win a playoff game with their third-team quarterback,” said ESPN “Monday Night Football” commentator Jon Gruden, who will be calling Saturday’s game in Charlotte, N.C.

Cue the dramatic music.

A victory would put Lindley in football lore. It would allow him to write a storybook ending to a season that started with him on the San Diego Chargers’ practice squad.

He could also convince the Cardinals to write a check.

If Lindley leads Arizona to a win Saturday, the Cardinals could have a backup quarterback controversy. Drew Stanton has been more than effective as Arizona’s replacement for Carson Palmer this season, going 5-3 before his own knee injury caused him to miss the last two regular-season games and Saturday's playoff game.

But with $3.2 million scheduled to come Stanton’s way in 2015, is he worth it as a backup? Especially because Lindley has shown marked signs of improvement the last three weeks?

Stanton is due a $500,000 roster bonus and a $250,000 workout bonus on top of his $2.45 million base salary.

Lindley made $234,706 for seven weeks of regular-season work, which would have equaled $570,000 for the entire season. That’s an increase from the $480,000 he earned in 2013 as the third-string quarterback who didn’t get a snap.

Trading or cutting Stanton at the end of training camp would cost Arizona just about $750,000 and would save Arizona $3.2 million against the cap, according to ESPN Stats & Information.

With Palmer scheduled to earn $10.5 million next season, will a $3 million backup be worth it?

Not if Lindley wins Saturday and gives Arizona a date with either Seattle or Green Bay in the divisional round. The vitriol toward Lindley when he was named the starter before Arizona’s Week 16 game against Seattle came from all directions. It continued after a dismal performance against the Seahawks -- the No. 1-ranked defense in the league -- but subsided after he played the best half of his career against the 49ers.

There are areas in which Lindley needs to improve, such as his decision-making and deep passes, but that comes with experience and reps. He showed off his arm strength and touch last Sunday against San Francisco. His poise has also been lauded all week.

But if he beats the Panthers, Cardinals coach Bruce Arians might want to take a step back and evaluate his quarterback room aside from Palmer. Stanton will be 31 by Week 1 next season. Lindley will be 26 and Logan Thomas will be 24.

As much as he’s progressed in a few weeks getting the first-team reps, the upside is with Lindley.

During Stanton’s second stint, the offense slowed to a crawl after he threw two touchdowns in the first quarter against Detroit in Week 11. He didn’t throw another for the next 10 quarters. With Lindley’s NFL-record streak of passes without a touchdown over, it’s not weighing on him anymore.

Neither Lindley nor Stanton were effective against Seattle, as was to be expected. But Lindley and the offense showed enough progress against the Niners to earn some confidence. Put Lindley against the defenses Stanton faced against New York and San Francisco (in the first meeting) and he'd win as well.

If Lindley wins Saturday and puts a playoff victory on his resume, there should be no question about his status heading into the offseason.
Carson PalmerTim Heitman/USA TODAY SportsCoach Bruce Arians hopes to have Carson Palmer back from his second torn ACL by July 1.
TEMPE, Ariz. -- The recovery and rehabilitation Arizona Cardinals quarterback Carson Palmer remembers after tearing his ACL in 2006 isn't the same as what he's about to embark on for the next eight or nine months.

Orthopedic philosophies and rehab techniques have changed in the past eight years, but the toughest part of Palmer's process, experts say, may be dealing with a second ACL injury at age 34.

“There's no question that our ability to recondition after an ACL reconstruction will change as we get older,” said Brian Cole, team physician for the Chicago Bulls and Chicago White Sox.

Recovery, Cole said, is inversely related to age. But since Palmer's first ACL injury, doctors have become more aggressive during rehab to get athletes back on the field or court, he added. That's been obvious with Cardinals safety Tyrann Mathieu's return and defensive end Darnell Dockett's ahead-of-schedule recovery.

ESPN injury analyst Stephania Bell said success and return-to-activity rates for a second ACL are still high but it may take longer than the typical eight months to get back. She said Palmer may need as much as nine to 12 months to be cleared for everything. Palmer hopes to be back by organized team activities but Cardinals coach Bruce Arians said July 1 may be more realistic -- putting his recovery at less than eight months.

Palmer's road back to the field began Tuesday, when he had surgery to repair the ACL using his patellar tendon. Cole said 75 to 85 percent of team physicians opt to use patellar tendons if they're sturdy enough. In 2006, Palmer's ACL was replaced with a cadaver ligament.

By using a patellar tendon, Palmer will likely face a more strenuous recovery early in the process, Bell said. One significant part of his rehab will be getting his kneecap moving as soon after surgery as possible so he doesn't develop scar tissue and “unusual stiffness” around the kneecap.

“It's a strong graft,” she said. “That will be something that will be different for him because he wasn't concerned with that when he did the other type of graft before. But other than that, it's probably more straightforward for him.”

While he's trying to get his range of motion back, Palmer will be looking at a series of mental hurdles, said former Carolina Panthers and New York Giants receiver Domenik Hixon, who tore his right ACL twice within 14 months.

Soon after the second injury, which he suffered in September 2011, Hixon said he began to doubt whether he was going to get another chance to play. He also was worried about defenders around his knees and going across the middle.

But recovering from the second surgery was easier than the first, he said.

“The unknown is gone, you've done it once before, you know what's expected,” Hixon said. “I knew the timetable where I'm supposed to be at and why they were measuring certain things and you're not going into it blind.

“I think that helped out a lot from the mental aspect.”

One significant change in rehab philosophy since 2006 is not using a clock to determine when an athlete will return to action, Cole said.

Since 1998, there have been 1,254 NFL players with knee-related injuries that were placed on injured reserve, according to ESPN Stats & Information. Of those, 249 were identified to have ACL injuries. And just nine injured -- before Palmer -- the same one at least twice.

Palmer's tearing the same ACL -- or a revision, as it's called in the medical community -- almost nine years after the first tear is rare, Cole said. Retear rates range between 2 to 7 percent depending on the sport and graft, Cole said.

“This is a little unusual in that it's a later failure,” Cole said. “In some respects you can argue this is an entirely new injury.”

His surgery Tuesday went “great” and “very, very small cartilage” was repaired, Arians said. Cole said retorn ACLs tend to have more cartilage damage than initial injuries.

Since the last time Palmer had his ACL replaced, doctors have an increased understanding of tunnel placement in the knee because, Cole said, they've become more educated in the “normal anatomy” of a knee with an original ACL.

With Day 1 of Palmer's recovery over, he already has benefited from the improvements and advancements of philosophy. He's on the verge of finding out how different his recovery and rehabilitation will be eight years after his first ACL.

“I'm mentally prepared,” Palmer said last week. “I'm mentally strong and I'm going to grind this thing out. I know the mindset you need to take, and that's the one-day-at-a-time thing, and it's baby steps and it's doing calf raises and small, little incremental movements and all these little tedious things that you don't feel like are doing anything but you have to do them.

“But you have to do what they tell you to do.”

TEMPE, Ariz. -- Soon after Arizona Cardinals backup Drew Stanton scrambled for four yards on a second down in the fourth quarter Sunday afternoon, coach Bruce Arians had some choice words for him.

The message was clear, however he chose to relay it: Slide. Arizona couldn't afford for Stanton to get hurt, and not just because starting quarterback Carson Palmer was already out of the game with what ended up being a season-ending knee injury and third-string Logan Thomas was inactive. With Palmer out of the equation for the rest of the season, the Cardinals are left with two quarterbacks on the roster.

Thomas
One is a rookie.

Asked Monday, after announcing Palmer's injury, if Arizona will sign a third quarterback, Arians was non-committal.

"We're going to examine those possibilities, yeah," he said.

When Arizona was in a similar position earlier this season after Palmer went down with an axillary nerve contusion in his right shoulder, the Cardinals signed Dennis Dixon for a week.

But with Palmer out for the rest of the season, the Cardinals will have to look at finding a third-string quarterback for the long haul. Dixon is an option again, maybe the Cardinals' best choice at this point in the season. He played for Arians in Pittsburgh from 2008-11, and understands the offense as well as anyone.

Another choice would be former Cardinals quarterback Ryan Lindley, who spent all of 2013 and the 2014 offseason with the Cards until being cut in August.

With seven games left, home-field advantage on the line and the NFC West heating up, those are the Cardinals' two best options at this point. Their familiarity with Arians' offense can help in the time of a crisis -- but if Arizona is down to their third-string quarterback at any point from here on out, crisis may be an understatement.

Another reason Lindley or Dixon are Arians' best choices is because they can continue to mentor Thomas with their knowledge of the scheme. And since he's worked with both of them, Thomas is familiar and comfortable leaning on them for advice.

Arizona can't afford to keep just two quarterbacks on its roster, especially with how much Stanton likes to run.

And with NFC North leading Detroit coming to town Sunday, the Cardinals need to solidify their quarterback corps, and Dixon or Lindley are the best fits.
TEMPE, Ariz. -- The Arizona Cardinals are still waiting to find out the severity of Carson Palmer's knee injury.

General manager Steve Keim said during his weekly Monday morning appearance on Arizona Sports 98.7 FM that Palmer will “go through a number of tests” Monday morning.

“We should have some more information at a later time today,” Keim said.

Palmer went down with about 11:21 left in the fourth quarter of Arizona’s 31-14 win over the St. Louis Rams on Sunday with what’s officially labeled as a left knee injury. There have been reports that he tore his left ACL, the same knee he injured in 2006.

After the game, coach Bruce Arians said the team may not know more about Palmer’s injury until Tuesday.

Arians meets with the media at 2:15 p.m. Monday.

GLENDALE, Ariz. – When Carson Palmer went down early in the fourth quarter in Sunday’s 31-14 victory over the St. Louis Rams, the Cardinals didn’t have time to ponder the possibility of losing their quarterback.

They had a game to finish.

“In the game, you don’t have time to blink,” left tackle Jared Veldheer said. “I think coming in here [to the locker room] after the game, it sinks in a little more. Obviously, it’s a blow right when it happens, but the game moves so fast, you need to keep focused.

“It’s tough, as an offensive lineman it kinda makes you a little sick to your stomach when that stuff happens. Got a big win, but it doesn’t feel good when that kinda stuff happens. It’s like go to war, but you lose a brother.”

Coach Bruce Arians went to check on Palmer while he was on the turf, something Arians doesn’t do often. He said two weeks ago, after Patrick Peterson lay motionless for a few minutes after getting knocked out for a moment against Philadelphia, that it takes a serious injury for him to leave the sideline.

[+] EnlargeCarson Palmer
AP Photo/Rick ScuteriWith an awkward twist to his left knee, Carson Palmer was out. But the Cardinals responded well Sunday against the Rams.
That’s when the potential impact of Palmer’s injury began to set in at University of Phoenix Stadium.

“Anytime your quarterback goes down and he gets hit like that, you think it’s going to be serious,” Arians said. “I wanted to go out and just see. It’s always different for your quarterback than it is for anybody else.

“It’s always next man up, but for me it’s a little bit different.”

Watching Palmer get helped off the field caused receiver Larry Fitzgerald to pause for a moment.

“Yeah, we’re human,” he said. “You see a guy, your captain on offense, one of your big leaders on the team, you see him lying down on the ground. We’re human. Long before Carson’s our quarterback, he’s our friend.

“You know his kids; you know his wife. Those types of things, you think about. You want him to be able to play and perform, to play with his kids every day. We understand the risks of playing football. Those things do come to mind, but then you look up there on the clock and you look at your teammates. You understand that we’re on a journey together and there’s going to be bumps on the road and you have to weather through those rough times.”

When Drew Stanton took over on Arizona’s next drive, he got in the huddle and told his charges what was next on their agenda: to score. Four plays later, they did.

“I got in there and said, ‘We need to go down there and get a touchdown. There’s no reason why we can’t,’” Stanton said.

Cornerback Patrick Peterson said the defense got angry after Palmer's injury.

“After Carson went down, obviously it was a non-contact injury, but after he went down, we just wanted to win this ballgame that much more and go out there and try to tee off on their quarterback as well,” Peterson said.
TEMPE, Ariz. -- The fourth quarter has become more than just the final 15 minutes of the game to the Arizona Cardinals.

It’s turned into the real difference between winning and losing. Heading into their ninth game, the Cardinals have scored 122 points through three quarters. But so have their opponents.

Palmer
Remember the cliché used by youth coaches that the game is 0-0 at halftime or the end of the third quarter? It’s become a reality for the Cardinals. They have outscored opponents 70-34 in the fourth quarter this season, largely because of quarterback Carson Palmer. And their plus-36 point margin in the fourth is the best in the NFC and trails only Kansas City’s plus-37 for the highest in the NFL, according to ESPN Stats & Information,

Palmer is second in the NFL in fourth-quarter total QBR (86.1) and fourth-quarter touchdown percentage (8.7), according to ESPN Stats & Information. In his five games this season, he’s one of four qualifying quarterbacks without a fourth-quarter interception. The other three are Buffalo’s Kyle Orton, Tampa Bay’s Mike Glennon and Minnesota’s Teddy Bridgewater.

In the fourth, Palmer is completing a higher percentage of his passes than the previous three quarters (65.2 vs. 60.6), and is averaging more yards per attempt (7.65 vs. 7.27). He’s thrown four touchdowns in the final quarter this season, compared to seven combined in the first three.

"We’ve been a second-half team since I’ve been here, as long as I can remember being a Cardinal," Palmer said. "We were a second-half team last year. We were really a second-half-of-a-season team last year, obviously, but we’ve been really good in the second half.

"And it’s good and bad. It’s good because that’s when games are won, but it’s bad because you leave teams hanging in the first half when you don’t go out and execute the way you expect to. From that standpoint, there are a lot of things we can clean up. We started hot and started fast as the season started, but we haven’t started games fast, and that’s something we all are looking to improve."

Palmer gets some help in the fourth, however.

Arizona’s defense looks like a different unit during the final 15 minutes:

.

Six of the Cardinals’ 12 interceptions, three of their eight sacks and three of their four fumble recoveries have come in the final quarter. Their plus-8 turnover margin is the final quarter is the best in the NFL.

In the fourth quarter Sunday in Dallas, Arizona held the Cowboys on fourth-and-1 with 9:41 left in the game, giving the ball back to the offense, which then extended a 14-10 lead to 21-10. It added another touchdown later in the game.

"That’s the way it’s been all year," Cardinals coach Bruce Arians said. "We kind of do some things, and I’ll take some shots sometimes that if we don’t hit, they’re going to put us behind the chains. We’ve been doing a better job of still making first downs after those, but we have to do a better job."
CardinalsRonald Martinez/Getty ImagesAndre Ellington and the Arizona Cardinals keep on finding ways to win.
ARLINGTON, Texas -- The Arizona Cardinals can't get by like this all season.

Sure, it's worked thus far. They are 7-1, lead the NFC West and sit atop their conference. But how long can the Cardinals' offense go through stretches like it did throughout the third quarter and into the fourth Sunday without it coming back to bite them? How long can the offense rely on the defense to have its back?

The Cardinals shot themselves in the foot on their first three drives of the second half before the defense made a game-changing stop and handed the offense the ball with the a breakout drive just begging to be finished.

Arizona's first drive of the third quarter ended with a punt three yards behind where it began. On the Cardinals' next drive, they gained 32 yards before punting. And their first drive of the fourth quarter started and ended at its own 19.

Each drive was highlighted by a self-inflicted would:
To Cardinals coach Bruce Arians, any big play in the third quarter started to feel like it was brought back by a penalty.

"It was a getting a little frustrating but our defense hung in there really, really well especially after the one bad field position that they got the ball up around the 45," he said.

"That's just the way our defense has played all year and our offense has hung in there and ‘boom,' they'll make the plays."

That's what made Arizona's first touchdown drive in the fourth impressive. When the Cardinals needed a score, the offense came through. Finally.

It was given the ball back by the defense, which stopped Dallas running back DeMarco Murray on fourth-and-1, at its own 35. Then Arizona took nine plays to go 65 yards in 3:36 to put the Cardinals up 21-10 and send the Cowboys grasping for a win at AT&T Stadium.

"It was big," wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald said. "Anytime you get a chance to have a sudden change in possession like that and the defense has a big stand, we have to answer with some power, as well offensively.

"We were able to do that and I think that really kinda swung the pendulum in terms of the game and the momentum."

Arizona flipped the field on one play that drive. After seeing the safety bite on the inside seam, Palmer hit Ted Ginn on the outside seam for a 27-yard gain along the Cardinals sideline. Ginn, who had four catches this season coming into Sunday, barely kept his feet in bounds.

Watching from the sideline, Arians thought Palmer was going to target John Brown. But Ginn made the catch and Arizona hurried to the line of scrimmage to avoid a replay and Dallas got caught with 12 men on the field after Ellington broke off a 17-yard run.

Ellington said frustration never crept onto the field because, for the second straight week, the Cards found ways to make a big play after the offense stalled.

After the defense stopped Murray, Arians watched his offense jog onto the field. Palmer said this team believes there's nothing too big for it overcome. It showed on that drive.

"They walked out there with a purpose," Arians said. "It wasn't a time to sit back and run the ball. We had to continue to attack and got ourselves in some good, favorable plays and Carson made some good decisions."

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- Larry Fitzgerald had already done his part.

By the time Arizona Cardinals quarterback Carson Palmer gave rookie receiver John Brown a secret signal on third-and-5 late in the fourth quarter that led to the winning touchdown, Fitzgerald had already had the third-best receiving game of his career.

With a running game that yielded only two plays of 10 yards or longer, Palmer turned to the pass to get Arizona by the Philadelphia Eagles 24-20.

"We were a little stagnant offensively," Fitzgerald said. "Not just in the second half but throughout the course of the first half.

"I've been saying this for a couple weeks, but we have to do a better job."

Andre Ellington, who had 24 carries last week, had 23 carries for 71 yards and a touchdown on Sunday as Arizona's lone rusher.

Fitzgerald finished with 160 yards on seven receptions, which included an 80-yard touchdown catch and run that proved the 31-year-old isn't out of gas just yet.

"I haven't lost anything," Fitzgerald said. "That's all I'm saying. No, I haven't lost anything."

The play was sprung by a Ted Ginn block that was a tick away from being a flagged as a pick. Fitzgerald made the catch, cut back to his right and took off. As he was sprinting down the right side of the field toward a 14-7 lead, he saw he was pulling away from Eagles defensive backs when he looked up at the videoboard.

"It was nice and clear," Fitzgerald said. "So, I was able to see where the guys were behind me and not look back."

Fitzgerald and Brown showed how dynamic Arizona's passing game can be with Palmer leading it. After Fitzgerald's touchdown, Palmer, who threw for 329 yards and two touchdowns on 20-for-42 passing saw the Eagles start keying on the Pro Bowl receiver more often, which, in the end, may have helped give Brown the opportunity he needed.

On third-and-5 from the Arizona 25 with 1:33 left and the Cardinals trailing by three, Palmer saw the coverage he wanted and gave a signal to Brown. He faked an in route, made a double move and took over. As soon as he saw the defensive back flat-footed, Brown said he knew he had him beat. After splitting Philadelphia's Cary Williams and Nate Allen, Brown initially thought Palmer overthrew him, but Palmer had seen Brown's extra gear before and knew the rookie would catch up to it.

"We're a pretty well-built offense," Palmer said. "I think we have a lot of things you can't key on. There are a lot of guys you have to worry about. Obviously, Larry is going to get a lot of that key from a defense that is going to be very keen on where he is in a formation because his motions and adjustments are right before the snap."

Brown's touchdown capped his first career 100-yard game. He finished with 119 yards on five catches.

"He's had that opportunity for that catch twice and didn't quite make it," coach Bruce Arians said. "Now, it's more time at practice.

"It was a great throw, but again, it was a great, great catch of him adjusting to a Willie Mays' catch over his shoulder."
GLENDALE, Ariz. -- Observed and heard in the locker room after the Arizona Cardinals' 24-20 victory over the Philadelphia Eagles:
  • Brown
    Wide receiver John Brown has been compared to some of the best small receivers in league history, but linebacker Sam Acho went one step further: "People compare him to Marvin Harrison. I think he's better and I loved watching Marvin Harrison, but [Brown]'s unbelievable."
  • When Cardinals coach Bruce Arians took the podium Sunday, he wanted to keep his comments to a minimum for a reason. "I'll be brief so you can get to the guys that actually won the game, not the one that almost lost it," Arians said.
  • On their winning touchdown hookup, Brown said quarterback Carson Palmer gave him a signal that the ball was coming to him after seeing a favorable coverage. But Palmer refused to give the signal, even after being pressed for it a couple of times. "We have a lot of signals," Palmer said. "Some are dummy signals, some are live signals. I guess it's too late to call it a dummy signal."
TEMPE, Ariz. -- The pop came overnight.

Palmer
 When Carson Palmer threw the Thursday before Arizona hosted Washington in Week 6, wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald saw passes that were “a little soft coming out.” A day later, when the Cardinals took the field for their final practice before Palmer’s return, his velocity was back.

“That next day it was boom, boom, boom,” Fitzgerald said. “[When his passes] hit your hands, there was some zip and velocity on it, and we knew he was ready to roll.”

He’s been rolling ever since.

Palmer is preparing for his third game since returning from a five-week absence because of an axillary nerve contusion in his right throwing shoulder, and the 34-year-old feels like he’s back to full strength.

“I’m there,” Palmer said. “I’m there right now, and I’m actually able to lift in my upper body, which I wasn’t able to lift for, I think, five weeks, is what it was. Definitely had a lot of atrophies. Starting to get some strength back and starting to put on a little extra weight up top, which is good.

“You get sick of going into the weight room and not being able to do things. It was a month of that. It’s good to be back doing that stuff.”

Heading into Sunday’s game against Philadelphia, Palmer’s right shoulder is as close to its pre-injury state as it’s been since he suffered the injury on “Monday Night Football” in Week 1.

“It’s improved,” receiver John Brown said. “Seemed like the old Carson when we first started camp and everything. Carson’s looking real good.”

Brown, who spent time with Palmer in California this summer, knew Palmer was back when the quarterback sent the rookie on a deep route a couple weeks ago. Palmer let it fly about 50 to 60 yards, Brown said, and hit the speedster in stride.

To get his timing back with his receivers, Palmer put in extra time with them, receiver Michael Floyd said. It was “pretty tough” but they’re “making it work,” he added.

The past two weeks have been about getting back to a normal rhythm for Palmer.

“It’s just nice to practice and be able to study the night before and know what you’re putting in and then go out and test it in practice and kind of have some trial and error of different coverages, different plays,” Palmer said. “It’s nice to be psychologically prepared because you know you’ve done it in practice and you know you’ve repped those plays and had those looks.”

At this point, with the injury seven weeks old and his return about to be three games old, Cardinals coach Bruce Arians feels Arizona and Palmer can put the shoulder injury behind him.

“Knock on wood,” Arians said. “Hopefully, we don’t have to talk about that one anymore.”
OAKLAND, Calif. -- When Arizona Cardinals left tackle Jared Veldheer woke up Sunday morning, he knew his return to the O.co Coliseum wouldn’t be just another game.

“It was kind of nostalgic -- more than I thought would even hit me being back,” the former Raiders third-round draft pick said. “Coming out pregame and running around back on the field, being back in the Coliseum and all the familiar things coming back from the last four years, it’s a lot of emotion.

“I knew it was going to be a special game.”

Leaving Oakland with a 24-13 win made it even more special.

Veldheer was one of three former Raiders on the field for Arizona. A lot was made last week about quarterback Carson Palmer’s return, but defensive tackle Tommy Kelly played the first nine years of his career with the Raiders.

He said he wanted to get a win for Palmer, who played half of 2011 and all of 2012 with Oakland before a trade landed him in Arizona, but Kelly wanted the win for himself.

“As a football player, I learned a lot,” he said. “I have a lot of love for this city and I wish the team nothing but the best. But on the football field, it’s not anything personal. It’s business. We just wanted to go out there, execute and win.”

While Kelly didn’t talk to any of his former Raiders teammates on the field -- “They kind of leave me alone. They know how I am,” he said -- he discussed playing a former team with his new head coach, Bruce Arians.

“You can see the smiles on their faces all week and [the] energy they brought to practice and meetings,” Arians said. “It was special for them, especially Tommy Kelly.”

Palmer and Kelly left the Raiders in 2013, and Veldheer in 2014. Veldheer, who was drafted by Oakland in 2010, returned with a chip on his shoulder because of how his departure went down.

“It was a big win for both of us,” Veldheer said.

“It meant a ton,” he added.

Palmer, who completed 70.9 percent of his passes for 253 yards, two touchdowns and his first interception of the season, downplayed having a chip on his shoulder. He did, however, make sure to get a box of favorite sandwiches delivered to the locker room after the game. He also talked about seeing his former Oakland teammates still on the roster.

“It was a great environment to play in,” Palmer said. “This place is awesome. It was great to play [here] when you’re wearing silver and black and it’s a fun place to play as an opponent. Great to get a win.”
TEMPE, Ariz. -- It's easy for Arizona Cardinals quarterback Carson Palmer to look back on his 18 months in Oakland and talk about the good parts of being a Raider.

He loved living in the Bay Area. He raves about Raider Nation's commitment. He admires the shield.

He can say those things because he's in a better place now.

"I loved it," Palmer said. "There's something special about being a Raider. There's just something different and it's different than any other team and every guy that plays for the Raiders says that. So, it was an awesome experience, just timing didn't work out with everything that was going on with the salary cap and all the crazy turnover and all that.

"There was so much chaos. There were so many things with the roster that needed to change. It was just bad timing."

[+] EnlargeCarson Palmer & Jared Veldheer
AP Photo/Tom HauckCarson Palmer said that he "loved" his time with the Raiders but also that it was "just an odd time" for the franchise.
When Palmer was traded to Arizona in April 2013, he entered a stable environment for the first time since his early years in Cincinnati. But his arrival in the desert came with questions. The Cardinals, after all, were also a franchise notorious for losing and were coming off a five-win season. And, a few months earlier, they had hired a new coach in Bruce Arians.

"Then you see the way the GM [Steve Keim] and the head coach work and you see how the owner is super hands-on but not really," Palmer said. "He just wants to win and he wants to make sure he's got the right guys in the right spots, and he's done that."

The Cardinals, in all their losing, weren't the Raiders -- especially the Raiders of the past dozen years, the ones who recently fired their seventh head coach since their last trip to the Super Bowl in 2002.

When Palmer was traded from Cincinnati to Oakland at the trade deadline in 2011, he wasn't ready to give up football, despite telling the Bengals he'd rather retire than play for them. And, five days after being traded, Palmer was playing for the Raiders. He replaced Kyle Boller in the second half against the Kansas City Chiefs -- two weeks before what the team had targeted for his first start. It was like being handed the keys to a car he didn't know how to drive.

"It was weird because we were getting beat pretty good at that point in the second half, this guy's going in and taking control of something with such an upbeat and positive attitude and getting everybody on the same page," said Cardinals left tackle Jared Veldheer, who played with Palmer in Oakland in 2011 and 2012. "And not being a part of the offense the entire season, he was still making sure he knew what routes receivers were running.

"It was just a step above literally going out there and having to draw some stuff up in the dirt, but it was awesome because he went out there and did it and there were no hitches in it."

Palmer lost his Raiders debut, but he finished 4-5 in his first, shortened season. Oakland barely missed the playoffs.

Despite Palmer's relative success, the Raiders asked him to restructure his contract in the offseason, and he obliged. Then coach Hue Jackson was fired by general manager Reggie McKenzie, who brought in his guy, Dennis Allen, to coach. Allen was fired this season after the Raiders started 0-4.

The losing continued in 2012, when Oakland went 4-12 and Palmer threw for 4,018 yards. After the season, the Raiders asked Palmer to take another pay cut. This time, he declined. About a week later, he was traded to the Cardinals.

By Week 14 of Palmer's first season in Arizona, he had already won eight games -- his total during his time in Oakland.

"It ended abruptly," Palmer said. "They obviously wanted to go in a different direction, and they expressed that to me when they wanted to, obviously, tear up my contract and they wanted to, obviously, move on and go with Terrelle Pryor and draft a young guy, and that's what they did. I have no hard feelings at all. I loved my time there."

If the stress of losing with the Raiders ever got to him, Palmer never let it affect him on the field.

"I think he handled it well," Veldheer said. "He never really let it show. Never let on if he was feeling any certain way about it. He never let it show up in practice and in the locker room. Really professional."

Almost three years to the date he was traded to Oakland, Palmer stood in front of his Cardinals locker and said his days in Oakland were a "difficult, difficult time to be successful."

"It was just an odd time," Palmer said. "There's no word. It was odd. One year, everybody had to get cut that was making anything over vet minimum because of the way all those contracts were front-loaded or back-loaded, whatever it was. New coach, new GM, it was just a weird time. Owner had died, the face of the organization. It was just an odd time and unfortunate. Selfishly, it was unfortunate."

Getting traded from one perennial bottom-feeder to another wasn't supposed to be how Palmer returned to the playoffs, but Arizona laid a blueprint last season for how to turn a franchise around. Palmer was one win from the postseason in 2013 and has the Cardinals off to a 4-1 start this season.

"We're just getting started," he said. "I'm getting started here.

"This is just the tip of the iceberg. I think we're getting ready to define, hopefully, my time here and our time as a team."

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