Cardinals quarterback Carson Palmer (3) launches a pass last weekend in Chicago Palmer had four touchdown passes in the game.
There were Sundays, back in the early part of the 2013 season, when fans actually wondered aloud why Bruce Arians wasn't replacing Carson Palmer with Drew Stanton as Palmer and the Cardinals' offense produced inconsistent results.
The notion – much like the memory of Kurt Warner being booed off the University of Phoenix Stadium field back in early 2006 – seems silly now.
Three offseasons and training camps later (and one ACL injury), Palmer is playing like the franchise quarterback General Manager Steve Keim believed he stole from the Raiders for what was essentially a seventh-round draft pick. He's learned Arians' offense, he's making the right decisions, and if that pesky ACL hadn't gotten in the way, the praise coming in now might've
been what the stretch run of 2014 would have been about.
"He's been a godsend for this organization," Keim said earlier this week on Arizona Sports 98.7.
The statistics since that bumpy time in the first part of 2013 have been staggering. In his last 17 starts – spread over three seasons, thanks to last year's problems with the knee and also his right shoulder – Palmer has won 15 times. He has thrown 34 touchdowns and just 13 interceptions, with a passing rating of 99.0.
There were questions of just what Palmer was going to be able to do early this season considering his ACL rehab. But he carried a magnificent training camp into the regular season, posting a passer rating of 124.4 thus far with seven touchdowns and only one interception – and that came on an amazing play by Bears linebacker Jared Allen.
Arians saw the same kind of Palmer last season, although he acknowledges, "he's taken it to another level."
Palmer has talked before about his understanding of the offense, and how three years in it's just easier to be successful. Even then, Palmer refuses to say he is comfortable in the offense, which is not a surprise for a quarterback who grinds through the details as much as anyone.
"As soon as you start to feel like you got it, something new is added and it's not one or two things, it's a handful of things,"
Palmer said. "It's really always evolving and you really have to stay on your toes. That's the idea of coach Arians, what everyone can handle, what can you take, what's not enough. I'm trying not to get comfortable. I'm trying to study as much as I can and always feel like I can study a little bit more."
Heading into this week's game against San Francisco, the Cardinals are perfect in red-zone efficiency, scoring touchdowns on all seven trips inside the opponent's 20-yard line. Palmer's touchdowns came in every form in Chicago – a middle screen to wide receiver Jaron Brown, a flea-flicker bomb to Larry Fitzgerald, a quick slant to Fitzgerald, and then a quick sideline pass to Fitzgerald who ran through a defender for the score.
In the opener against the Saints, one of his touchdowns was a beautiful dart to John Brown in the back of the end zone.
"It's the most fun, most diverse, complex, most evolving offense I've been in, for sure," Palmer said Wednesday.
This was the player Keim insisted still existed the day the Cardinals traded for him, despite some believing Palmer was too far past his prime. Palmer has acknowledged his rehab for his knee and shoulder this offseason helped his core as well, and he's throwing as well as he ever has – if not better.
Palmer's on-the-field work has caught up to the rest of the things he brought to the Cardinals and the locker room.
"He's not doing anything different," guard Jonathan Cooper said. "From the first day I met him, he's been commanding the group, showing great leadership and preparing out of this world – I mean, some of the stuff he's doing, going back so meticulously doing, that hasn't changed."
It may not be different, just better. His eight straight wins as starting quarterback is the first time the franchise has had such since Ray Mallouf won 10 straight in 1948. Palmer has found a chemistry with wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald (which started last season) that not only has paid off on the field – Fitzgerald has 199 yards receiving in two games – but energized a fan base that craves Fitzgerald's success.
Palmer hasn't been sacked either; the offensive line deserves credit there but Palmer already has shown remarkable presence in the pocket this season to avoid losses, whether it turns into a completion, a scramble or simply a ball thrown away.
With everything the Cardinals have been through the last few years – and where they could go – Palmer's importance can't be understated.
"It brings us to the realization '3' is a special player," Cooper said.
Images of QB Carson Palmer.