Quarterback Drew Stanton gets off a pass against the Giants in the Cardinals' 25-14 road win in New York Sunday.
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – As game day dawned Sunday, Bruce Arians knew starting quarterback Carson Palmer was nursing a sore right shoulder, knew he hadn't thrown all week.
Still, "I thought for sure he'd pull his cape out and go," the coach said.
Instead, after Palmer realized he could not, Arians ambled up to backup Drew Stanton and said, "Hey baby, you're up." A few hours later, the Cardinals owned a 25-14 win over the New York Giants at MetLife Stadium, and Stanton was merely the latest example of the growing Arians legend of "Next Man Up."
"Those," Stanton said, "are not just hollow words."
Getting that victory was, as Arians acknowledged, not always pretty. The Giants (0-2) are not a very good team, and there are issues to address. The four-man pass rush was not good enough (Arians, on the absent John Abraham, "I've got my fingers crossed someone is coming out of retirement Monday.")
But the crucial stats all ended up in favor of the Cardinals (2-0). The Cards did not turn the ball over but
the Giants did four times. The Cardinals averaged 4.4 yards a carry and gained 128 on the ground, and a supposedly gimpy Andre Ellington had 91 yards on 15 carries. The Cardinals got a punt blocked for a second straight week but Ted Ginn exploded for a 71-yard touchdown on a punt return that changed the game.
It started with the steady play of Stanton, who didn't have spectacular numbers when it was over (14 for 29 for 167 yards) but didn't turn it over in his last-second-but-not-really play.
Stanton's practice with the first unit was plenty to prep him – although his prep was three years in the making, from the time he first joined Arians in Indianapolis in 2012.
"He knows this offense inside and out," Arians said. "It's easier for him sometimes than even Carson."
"The numbers don't give him justice," Arians added.
It was Stanton's first regular-season appearance since he played in Detroit in 2010, "which everyone likes to
document," Stanton said. That December was also his last start, of which he only had four in his eight-year career.
But he engineered an 80-yard touchdown drive to start the game – aided by a dumb personal foul by Giants linebacker Jameel McClain when he drilled Stanton as the Cardinals were whistled for a delay of game – and he also took the Cardinals from their own 7-yard line to a field goal after the Giants had taken a 14-10 lead.
"I have to go back and watch the tape," Stanton said. "I'm sure there will be a few throws I'm going to wish I had back. But ultimately we came out and got a win and that was the most important thing to me."
Palmer, who said he was "fired up" for his backup, called Stanton the epitome of Arians' philosophy. Stanton's work might not be over, either. Palmer said he wasn't sure how quickly he will be able to return.
"I just have to stay on the rehab and hope (the nerve) wakes up," Palmer said.
Not that there is a concern in the locker room.
"We have complete confidence in Drew," safety Rashad Johnson said. "We've had a lot of adjustments (since the offseason), a lot of 'Next Man Up.' It's something we've had to believe in. B.A. came in strong with it, and we took on that mentality."
Arians emphasized the team contribution to the victory, though, and it was necessary. Ginn's punt return, after a three-and-out forced by a defense struggling to slow Eli Manning, shifted momentum early in the fourth quarter. On the very next play, linebacker Kenny Demens forced a fumble on the kick return and the Cardinals recovered, leading to a field goal.
Suddenly the Cardinals were up eight points, and a late Giants drive that could have turned into drama for the Cardinals fizzled when running back Rashad Jennings fumbled – untouched – in the red zone, allowing Johnson to fall on it.
The game ended with an interception by linebacker Larry Foote, as an appropriate exclamation point.
The Cardinals host San Francisco next week before getting to a bye. The chance to reach 3-0, even with injuries and defections and a team still looking for more consistency, has the Cardinals optimistic. Even if Stanton gets the call.
"This was definitely a confidence booster even though we were missing our captain Carson," center Lyle Sendlein said. "That's why Drew is here. That's why he's in the spot he is."
Images from the Week 2 matchup between the Cardinals and Giants