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Drew Stanton just ended Cardinals’ so-called backup QB battle

Arizona Cardinals quarterback Drew Stanton (5) throws for a touchdown as Oakland Raiders linebacker Shilique Calhoun (91) closes in during the first half of an NFL preseason football game, Saturday, Aug. 12, 2017, in Glendale, Ariz. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

GLENDALE, Ariz. — Cardinals coach Bruce Arians said Wednesday that Drew Stanton had nothing left to prove to him.

Stanton begged to differ.

“I feel like you always have something to prove, especially somebody in my position,” he said. “They’re always trying to find ways to replace you. They’re always trying to do different things to make this team better. That’s the way this league works.”

With Stanton entering the final year of his contract, his final day in Arizona may be approaching, but any talk of a battle for the backup quarterback spot likely ended on Saturday at University of Phoenix Stadium.

Playing all but the first series of the first half, Stanton completed 11 of 15 passes for 112 yards and a 7-yard touchdown pass to tight end Troy Niklas.

He led the Cardinals on two scoring drives — a 28-yard field goal by Phil Dawson was the other — and he played nearly mistake free, with the exception of an under-thrown ball to Chris Hubert in the end zone that was nearly picked off.

He finished with a passer rating of 116.5, which was higher than any game in his pro career in which he has thrown more than 10 passes.

“He was spot-on,” Arians said. “It’s what I’ve seen in practice every day. He was dynamite in OTAs and has been throughout the training camp.”

Stanton has had his detractors. He had a poor 2016 preseason and a poor 2016 regular season, completing just 19 of 49 passes for 192 yards, two TDs and three interceptions. When Blaine Gabbert completed 11 of 14 passes for 184 yards with a passer rating of 118.8 against Dallas in the Hall of Fame Game, those same detractors (predictably) were calling for Gabbert to assume the No. 2 spot.

Saturday’s performance, coupled with Stanton’s deep knowledge of the offense, likely erased any doubt in Arians’ mind.

“You always need this kind of performance; it’s always better than not playing well,” Stanton said. “I know those two throws that I tried to force the ball down the field — sometimes you get greedy, especially in this offense because those plays present themselves — you’ve got to be smart about that and find the check-down. I was able to do that, feel good about what I was trying to accomplish and we got points.”

On the touchdown pass, a third-down play from the Oakland 7-yard line, Stanton was expecting a different kind of coverage, but when he didn’t see Andre Ellington coming across the field, he was preparing to throw the ball away.

“Troy did a phenomenal job of coming back, aggressively downhill toward the ball and beat everybody else to the spot,” Stanton said.

While Arians thinks Gabbert’s presence has pushed Stanton to new heights, Stanton said he feels competition every year. The main factors he cited in his improved play this year are a specifically-designed program by strength and conditioning coach Buddy Morris, and Carson Palmer’s reduced throwing schedule.

“Getting a chance to work with the first team more has been really beneficial for me to just instill that confidence in myself,” Stanton said. “I have an understanding of the offense and a confidence level because I’ve been here — this will be my sixth year in the offense — but it’s also something you don’t take for granted and you like to get those reps just to keep the feel of it.”

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