Quarterback Drew Stanton slides just as 49ers linebacker Dan Skuta goes to hit him Sunday. Skuta was flagged for a personal foul on the play, but Stanton was OK.
Bruce Arians saw a different Drew Stanton on Sunday afternoon.
The Cardinals won their game last week against the Giants in large part because their backup quarterback did not make any glaring mistakes. It's a bit of a back-handed compliment, praising a player for not messing up, and against the 49ers, Stanton was more than just a fill-in.
Stanton completed 18-of-33 passes for 244 yards and two touchdowns as the Cardinals rallied to beat the 49ers, 23-14, to remain undefeated through the first three weeks of the season. He led consecutive third-quarter touchdown drives – both ending in scoring receptions by wide receiver John Brown – to turn a 14-6 deficit into a 20-14 lead and completely change the complexion of the game.
"Last week, I thought he was in management mode – don't lose it," Arians said. "This one, I thought he
went to win." Before last week, Stanton hadn't thrown a pass since 2010, and didn't get the nod to play against New York until just before kickoff. Understandably, he cut himself some slack for the slow start.
"Everybody well-documented the fact that it had been 1,100 days since I'd been out there," Stanton said. "You've got to shake off a little rust."
The Cardinals only scored six points in the first half against San Francisco but Stanton came out on fire in the third quarter. He highlighted a seven-play, 85-yard drive by finding Brown for a 24-yard score on the team's opening possession of the second half, and then orchestrated a five-play, 66-yard drive and hit Brown on a 21-yard touchdown for the lead.
On the second drive, Stanton absorbed consecutive roughing penalties from 49ers linebackers Dan Skuta and Patrick Willis. It gained the team 30 yards, but Stanton lay face down momentarily after the first hit.
"Talk about resilient," said Carson Palmer, the normal starter who is out with a shoulder injury. "He wasn't getting any calls, he was getting lit up, and he just kept bouncing back, kept bouncing back, and just continued to play great football."
Stanton said the blows didn't affect him much physically, as his pads and mouthpiece did the job.
"I've got a really good guy back in Michigan that I get my mouthpieces from," Stanton said. "They definitely worked today."
When Arians became the coach of the Cardinals in 2013, he quickly signed Stanton and proclaimed he would be the starter. A trade for Palmer pushed Stanton down the depth chart, but Arians always professed his faith in the new backup.
There wasn't a chance to test that belief because Palmer played every snap last season and again in the opener, but his injury opened the door.
"Drew prepares every week like he's the starter," Arians said. "His questions – he's talking to Carson constantly – and he's perfect in his preparation. Now he's getting all the reps, and really, his preparation hasn't changed other than getting reps in practice and taking them out to the ballgame."
Stanton was relaxed in his postgame press conference, with his hands shoved into his pockets, an easy smile on his face and a handful of quips at the ready. This one, though, meant a lot to him. His first career start came against the 49ers in 2009, a game in which Stanton threw three first-half interceptions and got benched in a 20-6 loss. He didn't play again that season.
"I've never been a guy that's worried about my stats," Stanton said. "I care much more about a team and about winning. But that one stung me. It'll test you in this league, and you have to constantly go out there and prove yourself, but I feel like a little bit of a weight came off my shoulder today."
Stanton started three more times in 2010 and won the final two, but that was it for him until last week. Now the Cardinals remain alone in first place in the NFC West in large part because of his performance.
"Guys get opportunities, and the guys that make the most of it stay in the league, and the guys that don't find themselves out of the league," Stanton said. "I kept saying, 'My time will come. My time will come.'"