Cardinals quarterback Carson Palmer talks with tight end Jermaine Gresham during Tuesday's organized team activity.
Being healthy this offseason – as opposed to his rehabbing life of last year – means much to Carson Palmer.
Instead of just making sure his knee is right, the veteran quarterback opened organized team activities Tuesday able to work on the nuances of his game. Footwork combinations on certain passes. Basic mechanics. Checks around the run game at the line of scrimmage.
"There were things I wasn't even thinking about (last year) because I was so focused on getting healthy," Palmer said.
Not everything can be addressed in the offseason, however. For Palmer, his struggles in the NFC Championship game following an MVP-quality regular season left perhaps the biggest question unable to
be answered until January.
Palmer knows he faces criticism about being able to win the big game. Not surprisingly, the 36-year-old was straightforward in his reaction.
"There's not much explaining to it," Palmer said. "You can't win the big game until you win it. We'll revisit that when we get back to the NFC Championship. That'll be that. Right now, I'm focused on today."
Since the day after the Cardinals season ended with their blowout loss to the Panthers, Palmer has been steadfast in his thoughts he has moved on. That didn't change Tuesday. For some, he acknowledged, a playoff loss can linger "one year, two years, three years … an entire lifetime." But that isn't him.
It is specifically that pressure to get back and win an NFC Championship – or a Super Bowl – that Palmer loves so much in the first place.
"I don't look at that as a negative," Palmer said. "That's the challenge. I love this position and I love this
game because of the challenge. … I enjoy that. I enjoy working to prove doubters wrong, I enjoy waking up every morning trying to improve on something. That's why I play the position."
Palmer's season has been well documented. He was in the MVP discussion after setting career-highs in yards (4,671), touchdowns (35) and passer rating (104.6). The Cardinals went 13-3. He wasn't at his best against the Packers in the playoffs, but he still threw for 349 yards and three touchdowns in an overtime win.
But then came the NFC title game, when the Cardinals played poorly in a 49-15 loss. Palmer threw four interceptions and lost two fumbles. Immediately, there were questions about Palmer's ability to perform in the playoffs.
Those questions do not makes sense to veteran wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald.
"You name me a person that had a good game that day," Fitzgerald said. "I played like (expletive). There's a bunch of guys that didn't play up to the standard we have here. For him to take all the blame I think is unwarranted. We win as a team, we lose as a team. We didn't play well enough to win, simple as that. We move forward from there."
Coach Bruce Arians insisted Palmer was able to move past the Panthers game faster than the coaches.
"You've got to get to the big ones first," Arians said. "That was his first championship game. Hopefully we'll get back there and we'll all have a little bit better experience."
The NFC Championship game, regardless of who is in it or where it is played, is months away. The Cardinals still have nine OTAs and a minicamp to get through, then time off, then training camp before the regular season even begins.
Palmer can be magnificent again, but he understands everyone will wait to see how he does in the postseason. That makes it even easier to focus on the details of offseason work right now, even with a team and a quarterback so desperate to give Palmer another chance.
"That's the game," Palmer said. "That's the position and that's the game."
The Cardinals open OTAs