Quarterback Carson Palmer talks to assistant athletic trainer Jeff Herndon as Palmer is carted off the field Sunday. Palmer suffered a torn left ACL and is done for the season.
Carson Palmer doesn't cry a lot, but he admitted he "cried like a baby" Sunday night.
The quarterback didn't need an MRI or any other tests to tell him he was done for the season. He knew his left knee had betrayed him before he even came off the field during what eventually became a 31-14 Cardinals' win over the Rams. Without being hit, he felt a pop, and that was it.
"It was just was a freak thing," Palmer said. "I've been in that position hundreds, if not thousands, of times."
Palmer's anterior cruciate ligament was torn. That was officially confirmed Monday. Palmer will be placed on injured reserve, ending his season. Only the ACL was damaged, however, meaning the timetable for his return is an optimistically quick one – Palmer is holding out hope he could even take part in OTAs, which run through mid-June.
"I'm going to play football again. I hope it's here," Palmer said. "There are a lot of unknowns in the future, and this organization, just seeing it the last two years, they will do what's best for the
organization. I understand it. I agree with it. I hope I am part of the equation."
That seems all but assured, even though Palmer wasn't 100 percent certain. Palmer just signed his contract extension Friday, and he is guaranteed a little more than $20.5 million through 2015. It would be an upset if Palmer wasn't around next season.
Regardless, Palmer talked about grinding through rehab to get back on the field, and the emotional pain of missing out on what has turned into a special season for the Cardinals.
"That's been the toughest part," Palmer said. "I'm having more fun than I've ever had my entire career. I'm on the best team I've ever been on. A phenomenal group of guys, from the top down. I hope this is my place next year."
Now Palmer plans to help where he can, coaching his fellow quarterbacks – including newly-minted starter Drew Stanton – or working with wide receivers on various blitz and coverage studies. Coach Bruce Arians said as long as Palmer is mobile enough, he'll be around the team as fellow ACL victim Darnell Dockett has been.
"We'll miss him on the field, but his leadership will still be there," Arians said.
The Cardinals now turn to Stanton, who played well in his three starts earlier in the season but now takes over knowing that Palmer – who was always expected to return from the nerve issue in his throwing shoulder – won't be coming back this time.
Arians said he wants to see Stanton play smarter and maybe take fewer risks, like the scramble Stanton had on his second play. The Cardinals only have rookie Logan Thomas as a backup, although the team figures to sign a third quarterback soon – possibly Dennis Dixon, who was on the practice squad briefly earlier this season.
"As far as my preparation, that doesn't change," Stanton said. "I'll just continue to stick to that process, which has helped me get to where I'm at today."
Palmer was in the middle of one of his best seasons. His 95.6 passer rating was the second-best of his career, with 11 touchdown passes
and only three interceptions in the six games he played.
Palmer is the biggest loss to the Cardinals but he certainly hasn't been the only one, not with Dockett and linebacker John Abraham long sidelined with injury and linebacker Daryl Washington suspended for the season and linebacker Matt Shaughnessy missing two months with his own knee injury.
"(Carson's injury) is a bump in the road and it's been a bumpy-ass road," Arians said. "I'd like to get the potholes fixed."
Palmer has his own long road ahead of him. He's faced it before. His ACL injury in 2006, when Steelers defensive lineman Kimo Von Oelhoffen collapsed his knee, shredded almost everything inside. Medical technology wasn't what it is now, and some thought Palmer's career was over.
Palmer said doctors have told him the surgery he will have now – with only the ACL torn – is simple and routine, like setting and casting a broken bone. Rehabilitation, though tedious, will be nowhere as intense as the last time.
He will play wing man to the 53-man roster as they try to make a potential Super Bowl run that, until now, Palmer has been loath to address. His new status on the outside looking in changed that Monday when asked if the Cardinals could still find their way to the Super Bowl.
"There is no doubt," said Palmer, noting how the team changed when he was hurt. "What our defense did in the fourth quarter (Sunday), just turning around and scoring 14 points? That doesn't happen.
"It's like everyone just took a big breath in and turned it on, on defense, on offense. That's a Super Bowl team right there. There is something special about this group."