GLENDALE, Ariz. — It had been a long time since Carson Palmer threw a pass that counted in an NFL game.
Three-hundred and eight days, to be exact.
Palmer, recovered from a torn ACL suffered on Nov. 19, 2014, against the St. Louis Rams, was under center for the Arizona Cardinals in their 31-19 season-opening win over the New Orleans Saints Sunday at University of Phoenix Stadium.
The veteran completed 19 of 32 passes for 307 yards and three touchdowns. He was not picked off or sacked, and showed some elusiveness in scrambling three times for 14 yards.
“I thought he played outstanding,” Cardinals coach Bruce Arians said. “He came out on fire. He was right on point on his gameplan, saw their adjustments — and they made some, Rob did a nice job. I thought Rob Ryan did a heck of a job making some adjustments to some of the stuff we do — and we had to readjust. So it was one of those good chess matches.”
If this was chess, then Palmer did his best Garry Kasparov. He appeared to be in control for most of the game, with only a few ill-advised throws or decisions mixed in with an otherwise commanding performance. He completed at least one pass to eight different receivers, and a ninth — J.J. Nelson — drew an important pass interference penalty on a deep ball in the fourth quarter.
For the most part, Palmer appeared to pick up right where he left off last season.
When he went down against the Rams last year, he was in the midst of one of the best campaigns of his career. And though there was some initial doubt as to how effective he would be upon a return — or even if he would return — those concerns have pretty much been assuaged.
“Carson looked good all preseason, throwing the ball around,” receiver Larry Fitzgerald said. “He’s very accurate and even scrambling around, finding that touchdown with John (Brown), you know, scrambling around and making things happen on his feet.
“Carson showed his toughness. Got hit a couple times and got back up and kept fighting for us. We’re going to be a really difficult team with Carson healthy throwing the ball around to all the weapons that we have.”
Perhaps more important than anything Palmer did on the field is that he was able to remain on it. The 35-year-old was hit on a few plays and scrambled on others, with Arizona’s coaching staff, players and fans likely holding their breath every time it appeared he might be in danger.
“They may have to start spying Carson because he got out of the pocket a few times,” safety Tyrann Mathieu said, with a smile. “Obviously we were nervous on the sideline, like, ‘get down!’
“But Carson played well. We knew he was going to play well coming into the game, and he’s fired up. Any time the quarterback is fired up and excited and anxious to get on the field, it just runs through the locker room.”
Asked how he felt physically, the QB said “I feel great” before going on to praise the job his offensive line did. While Sunday’s performance led to just one win, what it did for the perception of this team may be even bigger.
With a 14-2 record over the quarterback’s last 16 games for the team, it has become obvious that if No. 3 is on the field, the Cardinals have a really good chance of coming away with a victory.