Quarterback Carson Palmer, in his first game since the opener, threw for 250 yards and two touchdowns in Sunday's 30-20 win over Washington.
Hints existed that Carson Palmer was going to start Sunday – the way he threw in practice Friday, the confidence the quarterback had that the nerve in his shoulder was finally "awake."
That didn't make his appearance in the starting lineup any less of a mystery though.
"It wasn't until it really got to the 13th hour," left tackle Jared Veldheer said, "did we have a better idea who would be back there."
There Palmer was, though, running out of the tunnel with the starting lineup, throwing a completion to tight end John Carlson for 13 yards on his very first throw, acting as if he had only missed 32 minutes rather than 32 days on the field. It wasn't the perfect return for Palmer, but it was close to it, after the Cardinals (4-1) came up with a 30-20 win over the Washington Redskins at University of Phoenix Stadium.
"I feel great," Palmer said with a smile. "Tired, but great."
Palmer threw 44 passes, completing 28 for 250 yards, two touchdowns and once again, zero interceptions – the Cardinals have yet to throw
an interception this season. That shouldn't have been the case, after Palmer threw one right to Redskins linebacker Brian Orakpo, only to have Orakpo drop it. But the details get lost in the big picture, which is that the Cards had their quarterback back.
They also got the best day of the season from Larry Fitzgerald – six catches, 98 yards, a touchdown – and the confidence that their offense has a chance to be what it can be.
"I just need reps, I just need work," said Palmer, who said he got about a fourth of the 11-on-11 first-team work Friday, leading him to believe he could play. "I need to throw a bunch to get my arm stronger."
Palmer said he's not healed, per se. There is still work to be done on his shoulder, although he doesn't know if he will be returning to Denver at all for the treatment there. But optimism reigns that he is back for good.
That would be a great sign for the Cardinals, who rallied from a week of uncertainty for a needed win. A defense that was playing without injured defensive end Calais Campbell and linebacker Matt Shaughnessy stood up against the run, allowing just 72 yards. And while it took awhile, the Cards also came up with four turnovers – all in the last 12:54 of the game.
Cornerback Jerraud Powers forced a fumble that Tyrann Mathieu recovered and then made an interception. Safety Rashad Johnson had two interceptions, including one he returned 28 yards for the game-clinching score with 18 seconds left.
Imperfections bled into the defensive game too. DeSean Jackson got loose for a 64-yard slant-and-run touchdown in the first half, and the Redskins (1-5) somewhat easily pulled within three with 2:17 left on a touchdown drive. But it was a field goal allowed right before halftime that turned things, when the Redskins generated offense in 25 seconds starting at their own 20-yard line – right after the Cardinals scored a touchdown.
"(We) just blew it defensively to end the half," coach Bruce Arians said. "When those things happen, our guys get really, really upset."
Adjustments were made, and until the last drive, the Redskins looked out of sorts with a defense that had to lean on guys like a rebuilt Tyrann Mathieu and understudies like linebacker Alex Okafor (two sacks) and rookie defensive end Ed Stinson.
"That's not us to allow a drive of 80 yards and a field goal," Johnson said. "That's not our defensive effort we've put out all year. That was definitely a motivating point for (defensive coordinator Todd Bowles) to come in and let us know we weren't playing the way we should have. It gave us a spark."
The way the defense played most of the second half, the game should have been put away much earlier. Offensively, the Cardinals bogged down, unable to create enough first downs. After two first-half touchdowns – Palmer found wide receivers Michael Floyd and Fitzgerald each for their first scores of the season – kicker Chandler Catanzaro found himself on the field much too often.
Fitzgerald said the Cardinals had to do a better job scoring – the Cards got just one field goal out of their final four possessions, three of which started in Washington territory and one at the Arizona 46 – but with Palmer back, there didn't seem to be as much concern that it wouldn't happen.
"I know it really had to be frustrating just playing the waiting game, waiting for that nerve to start firing again," Fitzgerald said. "You could see it in his eyes on Friday in practice."
Palmer took a chunk of the blame himself for the second-half offensive stalls.
"I felt very rusty and I missed some simple things," Palmer said.
There is time to work on that, though. And look, a date with his former team, the Raiders, comes up in a week, just in case Palmer was looking for more motivation.
With the Seahawks losing in Seattle to the Cowboys Sunday, the Cardinals are once again alone atop the NFC West. Their quarterback is back in place. The Cards don't have a losing streak, even with the rash of injuries they have endured.
Not that it matters, when the head coach shrugs it away.
"We are in first place," Arians said. "There is no adversity. There are only bumps in the road."