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Cardinals Attempt To Weather Storm

Key injuries have outsiders questioning whether season is already lost

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Cardinals linebacker Josh Bynes breaks up a pass in the end zone on Sunday against the Rams.

It's true football is a physical sport, and every team will deal with injuries to key personnel at some point in the season. It's also true the Cardinals have been hit harder than most.

Training camp came and went with an almost eerie calm, as the team entered the season opener against the Lions astoundingly healthy and with high expectations. And then the snowball began careening down the hill, taking down one big name after another.

Running back David Johnson was the first one caught up, followed by guard Mike Iupati, outside linebacker Markus Golden and, on Sunday, quarterback Carson Palmer. The first three are on injured reserve with only Johnson trending toward a late-season return. In a best-case scenario, Palmer seems likely to miss at least half-a-dozen games.

The Cardinals are 3-4, technically still alive in the playoff hunt and the NFC West. But between the way they've played on the field and the prospect of what's ahead, there is already widespread talk outside the organization of a lost season.

In order for the team to find a way to buck this trending narrative, it can't fall into that mindset.

"It ain't time to soak in it and talk about the what-ifs and this, that and the third," left tackle D.J. Humphries said. "It's time to hit the ground running and figure out a new strategy."

The Cardinals are not looking ahead, and that's probably a good thing, because soon comes a three-game stretch against the Seahawks, Texans and Jaguars. For now, the focus is on the 49ers after the bye.

San Francisco is winless, and the last time the Cardinals played the 49ers on the road, Drew Stanton was under center in place of an injured Palmer. He was inconsistent in that game, but threw a couple of touchdown passes in a 33-21 win.

That game lacked aesthetics, but if the Cardinals can scratch out wins in similar fashion the next few weeks, they won't care how it looks. They are trying to stay afloat so Palmer and Johnson can get back with something on the line.

"I know it got worn out and played out a couple years ago, but that mantra of 'Next Man Up' is what we've relied on for so long around here," Stanton said. "That's just the way we're going to operate."

Stanton is 6-3 as a starter with the Cardinals, but his individual numbers are below average, and Sunday's erratic showing did little to assuage any fears about Palmer's prolonged absence. There is already a strong undercurrent of support for Blaine Gabbert to get his chance, but one person firmly in Stanton's corner is Gabbert himself.

"Drew's going to do a great job, and I'm going to be there to support him," Gabbert said.

Gabbert has been in both positions during his career, both as the presumed answer and the struggling starter. He said while the quarterback position may be a hot topic, it won't affect his relationship with Stanton.

"Everybody is the best Monday morning quarterback in the world," Gabbert said. "Everybody is going to have their opinion on how we play the game because we are the most watched position in sports. Right or wrong, good or bad, everybody thinks they can do our job, but most people can't. So we're accountable to the guys here."

With quarterback in flux, the Cardinals' recipe for success will hinge on improvement in the running game and on defense. It's a tall order considering both of those aspects have struggled through seven games, and it's why many are ready to print the obituary for the 2017 season.

The Cardinals are going to take the next several days to clear their heads, but when they return, there must be a belief permeating the locker room, that some way, somehow, the healthy bodies can make up for the massive personnel hits.

"As we used to always say, 'No excuses, no explanations,'" safety Antoine Bethea said. "Everybody deals with injuries in this game. It's unfortunate we've lost three key players to our team, but nobody's going to be feeling sorry for us when we step on the field. As a team, we've got to step up."

Some of the top images from the game in London



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