Cardinals quarterback Carson Palmer blows a kiss to the crowd after the Cards' 26-20 overtime win Saturday night.
Carson Palmer had not won a playoff game before Saturday night, a fact the NFL world knew well.
But that's not what the Cardinals first thought of when it came to their quarterback. They thought of the guy who has been a needed leader inside the locker room and on the field. They thought of the guy who is a legitimate MVP candidate. And they thought of the guy who made the play that turned a crushing Hail Mary into a footnote.
"I think that (playoff talk) has been a little unfair," wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald said. "He's played all of five quarters in the
playoffs (before Saturday). He got hurt in the first quarter and he played one other game, so he hasn't had a great body of work."
Against Green Bay, "I think he displayed why he's an MVP candidate and a guy who's so respected around this league," Fitzgerald continued. "He comes out and throws three touchdowns and leads us in the second half with the way he performed. He made some great plays and got out of pressure. That's the kind of leader we're all going to follow."
Palmer will lead the Cardinals into the NFC Championship next Sunday in Carolina.
The 75-yard catch-and-run by Fitzgerald was epic on the receiver's part, but it wouldn't have been possible without Palmer. The 36-year-old should've been sacked on the play. He dodged Clay Matthews and then spun away, scrambling to his right.
Suddenly he wheeled and threw across his body back to the left side of the field. Fitzgerald was there, uncovered.
"I saw him out of the corner of my eye," Palmer said.
Two plays later, Palmer's shovel pass to Fitzgerald went for a touchdown, and the Cards had won. The performance was uneven and the end-zone interception Palmer threw earlier in the fourth quarter could have been crushing.
But there is a reason the Cardinals believe in their quarterback.
"That's what I love about him, he can rebound," coach Bruce Arians said. "Some guys can't ever recover from those type of things. He bounces right back."
Palmer had three touchdowns for the seventh time this season, but had two interceptions, only the third time this season he threw two interceptions, after such days against the Steelers and Bengals.
"Yeah, it's easy to dwell on things like (the pick), but the experience I have, I've learned from a lot of opportunities and situations," Palmer said. "You've got to forget about it and move on. There is no other thought. You've just got to move on."
Palmer admitted winning a playoff game "feels better than I thought," but added the Cardinals – and Palmer – have bigger goals. A Super Bowl appearance is one win away.
The Cardinals will have to get that win in Carolina. And that's notable from the Cards' side. Before this postseason started, when one talked about Palmer around the Cardinals, it wasn't that he had yet to win a playoff game. It was that the Cardinals feel they would have gone to Carolina last year in the playoffs and won Palmer's game then had he just been healthy.
Palmer and the Cards had to wait a year. But here they are.
"I want to see him get a ring," said defensive tackle and friend Frostee Rucker. "He makes plays like that, you know you have something special going on. This was a big hump to get over for a lot of us and we want to keep it going."
Images of the Cardinals facing off with the Packers on Saturday night