Wide receiver John Brown drives toward the end zone on his game-winning touchdown catch Monday night.
Carson Palmer got what he wanted.
Before the regular season started, the Cardinals' quarterback hoped the offense would be put in positions of pressure in 2014. The defense was the backbone of last year's 10-win team, but after it suffered several key personnel losses this offseason, Palmer believed his side of the ball could carry its weight with a year of experience and upgraded weapons.
It didn't take long for that opportunity to present itself, and the offense delivered. Palmer orchestrated an 11-play, 91-yard drive in the fourth quarter
to rally the Cardinals to the 18-17 victory over the Chargers in the season opener. The team converted a pair of third downs and John Brown weaved his way through a pack of defenders on a wide receiver screen for the game-winning 13-yard touchdown.
While the offense had its spurts of inconsistency, the confidence didn't waver late.
"I don't think anybody was surprised," Palmer said. "I think we all expected it."
The numbers looked good in the end for the Cardinals. Palmer finished 24-of-37 for 304 yards with two touchdowns and Michael Floyd caught five of those passes for 119 yards. Running back Andre Ellington was limited by a foot injury but still finished with 13 carries for 53 yards and caught five passes for 27 yards.
The Cardinals outgained the Chargers 403-290, but statistics didn't tell the whole story. The team had only six points through three quarters, and Palmer came close to throwing a pair of interceptions as the offense searched for a groove.
"It's not like you draw it up, but it wouldn't be an NFL game without a little adversity," center Lyle Sendlein said.
When it came down to crunch time, the offense was impressive. In addition to the winning drive, the Cardinals went 64 yards on 10 plays early in the fourth quarter to cut a 17-6 deficit to five points. The touchdown was freelanced, as Palmer scrambled right and found running back Stepfan Taylor
from five yards out.
"You just keep pecking away," coach Bruce Arians said.
The Cardinals had trouble running the ball for portions of the game, but Ellington ripped off an 18-yarder on the final drive and the team finished with 26 carries for 109 yards, 4.2 per carry. The usually immobile Palmer had four carries for 29 yards, including a crucial 12-yard scramble on 3rd-and-10 late in the fourth quarter.
"That felt great," a beaming Palmer said. "It's been a long time since I've done that. High school, probably."
Wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald finished with only one catch, but it was an important 22-yard grab four plays before Brown's touchdown. Palmer said he learned after last season it's important not to force-feed Fitzgerald the ball if he is being double covered.
"You want to get him involved, but it can bite you in the butt," Palmer said. "We weren't going to do that tonight."
The Cardinals reeled off some big plays but also had stretches where they couldn't move the ball effectively. There are certainly problems to iron out before next week's game against the Giants, but figuring them out while sitting at 1-0 beats the alternative.
"It wasn't the prettiest game," Arians said, "but a win is a win."