Cardinals quarterback Carson Palmer stands in the pocket during the 2014 game against the Rams at University of Phoenix Stadium.
His remarkable return from his ACL injury has led into his remarkable start to the season for Carson Palmer, so dialing back to that November day when his knee gave out at University of Phoenix Stadium against the Rams – who happen to be coming back for their 2015 visit this weekend – doesn't interest the quarterback much.
He in fact feigned ignorance when asked about it Wednesday.
"What happened last time we played them?" Palmer deadpanned.
The question, actually, could be what happened the last few times the Cardinals have played the Rams. The last three meetings have ended in Cardinals victories, but also with three key players suffering season-ending injuries.
Palmer's knee gave out when he was untouched. A few weeks later, replacement quarterback Drew Stanton went down
after a tackle in St. Louis, a knee injury that knocked him out for good. In the December game in 2013 at University of Phoenix Stadium, safety Tyrann Mathieu fought a little too hard on the return of a punt, and when he finally went down under a heap of tacklers he tore multiple ligaments in his knee.
The Seahawks are the kings of the NFC West and the 49ers have been a hill the Cardinals have had to fight to climb. But the Rams are the team for which the descriptor "physical" is mentioned early and often inside the Cards' locker room.
The injuries, Stanton said, are simply coincidence. "But there is no denying how physical they are," he added. "They are as good as anybody in the league at that."
Cardinals coach Bruce Arians had a chance to take Palmer out of the game the past two weeks as his team built big leads. Palmer played. The Rams have struggled to score this season, but their defense figures to keep them in the game, so this week, the option to remove Palmer likely won't be there.
In fact, while part of Palmer's remarkable 16-2 record over his last 18 Cardinals starts includes the game in which he was hurt, the Cardinals were actually behind at the time when he went down. Stanton came in to throw a touchdown pass to John Brown to spark a comeback.
Given its non-contact nature, Palmer's injury against the Rams was indeed coincidence. But it hasn't gone unnoticed that the Rams' talented defensive line is arguably the best in the league and keeping Palmer healthy through this game is paramount.
"We've got to make sure these guys get nothing, because it can ruin your season," left tackle Jared Veldheer said. "It can
The Cardinals have seen that up close already. And just in case Palmer and the Cardinals really don't remember much about the games that ultimately derailed them last season, they could watch on video last week's Rams-Steelers game as Pittsburgh quarterback Ben Roethlisberger was knocked out for at least a month on a knee injury caused by blitzing safety Mark Barron.
Roethlisberger said the play was simply a byproduct of the game. As for the idea that a fear factor might precede – and aid – the Rams' defense, coach Jeff Fisher disagreed.
"We play football," Fisher said. "We play it hard. We rush the passer and we're no different than any other defense. If they passer's got the ball in his hands, we're going to try to get him to the ground. If you're implying intent, that's inappropriate. We're going to play hard. We have skilled players, guys that can rush the passer, and as a result, the ball comes out quick."
There was emotion in the Cards' win in St. Louis last season. The Cardinals won a 12-6 battle of field goals, a game that all but clinched a playoff berth despite the Cards being down to a third-string quarterback. Afterwards, a fiery Arians noted the lack of belief the Cards would win on the road, saying "There's an 11-3 team and a team that is always 8-8. You figure it out."
"We want to start a new culture here, a new brand of football," defensive end Frostee Rucker said Wednesday. "Last year, with all the injuries, then Drew went down, it was like we couldn't catch a break. To clinch a playoff spot, that was huge. We had a lot to be proud about at that moment and Coach said that stuff and we back him up on that."
Arians said Wednesday all the games with the Rams have been close since he arrived – the Rams beat Arians in his first game as Cardinals coach when the Cards couldn't hold an 11-point fourth-quarter lead – and, like his players, noted how physical it gets.
"It seems like Jeff and I have played against each other every single year I have been in the league, so there are not really many secrets defensively or offensively," Arians said. "We know what they do and they know what we do, so let's just go play."
For Palmer, he too just wants to go out and play.
"What happened last year is what happened last year," Palmer said. "I'm looking forward to this challenge for our offense to go against one of the best defenses in the league and see how we stack up against those guys."
Images of Cardinals safety Tyrann Mathieu's interception return for a touchdown