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Cardinals Stay Straight On Bumpy Road

Arians would love to "get he potholes fixed," but team has maneuvered well thus far in 2014

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Injured defensive tackle Darnell Dockett gives words of encouragement to running back Andre Ellington earlier this season.

Bruce Arians wasn't going to change a thing.

The coach has dealt with this before. The Cardinals have dealt with this before. Carson Palmer lost for the season with a knee injury? "It's another bump in this road."

"It's been a bumpy-ass road," Arians added. "I'd like to get the potholes fixed."

Good luck with that. Even Arians likes to talk about how the next bump is always coming. In fact, think back – what was the

first real bump of 2014? It was the suspension of linebacker Daryl Washington for a year because he violated the league's substance abuse policy again. Arians was pragmatic about that, too.

"Hopefully this is the biggest thing that happens to our football team this year," Arians said on that hot June morning. "But there are going to be another two or three bumps in the road. You have to march on. You cannot use it as an excuse."

It's been more than two or three bumps. It's been pothole central.

Leading pass rusher John Abraham didn't show up to training camp right away, and when he did, 20 days late, there were questions about where he'd be physically once the season started. It didn't matter – Abraham suffered a concussion in the first game of the year, and doctors told him he needed to take at least a year off from football.

Defensive tackle Darnell Dockett, the soul of the defensive line, blew out his ACL during a training camp practice, ending his season. Safety Tyrann Mathieu returned to practice in training camp after blowing out his knee last season, and is just now rounding into form.

Running back Andre Ellington came out of camp with a foot injury that, while never sidelining him for a game, has significantly curtailed his practice time all season. Coaches repeatedly talk about how that missed time sometimes impacts how Ellington plays in terms of chemistry with the offense.

Quarterback Carson Palmer gutted through a season-opening win over San Diego, but his decision to take on safety Eric Weddle as a runner led to a freak nerve injury in his throwing shoulder that cost him three games.

Punter Dave Zastudil ended up with a groin injury coming out of camp that turned out to be so bad he punted in just one game – Denver – before going to injured reserve.

Running back Jonathan Dwyer, the intended thunder of the run game to Ellington's lightning, was lost after two games after a domestic violence arrest.

The defense lost two of its best players against the run when defensive end Calais Campbell and linebacker Matt Shaughnessy suffered knee injuries against the Broncos in Week 5. Campbell returned after missing two games and is again playing at a Pro Bowl level, but Shaughnessy's injury was bad enough that he landed on temporary injured reserve, unable to play in a game again until Dec. 7.

And then, with the Cardinals seemingly steadying the ship, came the harshest bump of them all – Palmer's torn ACL Sunday, ending his season.

Yet the team is 8-1, sporting the best record in the NFL. In an unscientific glance around to national NFL analysts, more than

not seem to believe the Cardinals can continue winning despite the setbacks. Certainly, winning eight of nine already under such circumstances has provided a confidence in the locker room.

"We can sit there and feel sorry for ourselves if we want to, but nobody else is going to," quarterback Drew Stanton said.

The Cardinals do it a little differently. Dockett has been around the team a lot since he got hurt – including game days, home and away. Palmer, working around his crutches and upcoming surgery, plans to do the same thing.

"I'm not going to stop leading and stop being vocal and stop doing the things I do, whether I'm the starter or I'm the IR quarterback," Palmer said. "I get a feeling from my teammates that my opinion and my voice are valued. I'll lead any way I can."

Starting a season like the Cardinals have isn't an opportunity that comes along often. Palmer said as much, but it needn't be spoken. There isn't anyone in the locker room that doesn't understand you don't want to squander what's been built.

The Cardinals aren't the only ones who found the bumpy-ass exit on the road to January. Tuesday, the Seahawks have lost arguably their best defensive player this season, Brandon Mebane, for the season, and 49ers linebacker Patrick Willis is also done for the year.

It's how teams adjust to the potholes that make it to February. Nothing's changed, Arians said. The team's goals are the same. The approach to Wednesday's practice, prepping for the Lions, is the same.

That's why the Cardinals are in good shape, because Arians is at the wheel.

"Nobody knows what to expect," Palmer said, "but he's going to handle this thing the right way."

LINDLEY RETURNS

Palmer was officially placed on injured reserve Tuesday. In his place, the Cardinals re-signed quarterback .

The top 10 images from the Cardinals' win over the Rams



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