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Carson Palmer, Cardinals red-zone offense struggle in loss to Rams

Arizona Cardinals quarterback Carson Palmer (3) throws against the St. Louis Rams on fourth down during the second half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Oct. 4, 2015, in Glendale, Ariz. The Rams won 24-22. (AP Photo/Rick Scuteri)

GLENDALE, Ariz. — It’s been a pretty reliable recipe.

Carson Palmer starts at quarterback and the Arizona Cardinals win football games.

Dating back to 2013, that’s pretty much been the case. The Cardinals had been 16-2 in Palmer’s last 18 starts.

Something wasn’t right with that recipe Sunday, as Palmer and the Cardinals fell to the St. Louis Rams 24-22 at University of Phoenix Stadium, knocking them from the ranks of the NFL’s unbeaten teams.

It’s not as if head coach Bruce Arians didn’t put the game in the veteran quarterback’s hands. Trailing by two points late in the fourth quarter, Arizona faced a 2nd-and-2 from the St. Louis 43-yard line. The Cardinals opted to pass three times, even though they were armed with three timeouts and were about 13 yards away from field goal range for kicker Chandler Catanzaro, who had already booted five three-pointers in the game.

Palmer’s second-down pass was a screen to the left, but it was knocked down by Rams defensive end Robert Quinn. On third down, Palmer tried to hit Jaron Brown on a sideline route, but the ball was high and the receiver couldn’t come down with it. Palmer’s fourth-down pass was intended for rookie running back David Johnson, but it was short.

The Rams successfully ran out the clock on four straight runs from rookie running back Todd Gurley, who rumbled for 146 yards on 19 carries in just his second NFL game.

“A lot of throws,” Palmer responded when asked if there was a particular pass he’d like to have back. “It was just a game where I didn’t make enough plays to help us win and when you’re the quarterback, you need to do that. I just flat-out didn’t make enough plays to for us to win the game.

“We had a chance there at the end and I didn’t make the plays for us.”

It wasn’t just an end-of-game issue for the Cardinals’ offense, which came into the game as the highest-scoring unit in the league. On its second possession, Arizona (3-1) drove all the way to the St. Louis 1-yard line following a 29-yard pass interference penalty on Janoris Jenkins. After two Chris Johnson runs lost yardage, Palmer found a wide-open David Johnson at the goal line, but the rookie dropped the ball. The Cardinals settled for three points, courtesy of Catanzaro.

That theme continued throughout the ball game.

The Cardinals ventured inside the Rams’ 20-yard line on five separate occasions, but managed just one touchdown — and that technically occurred outside the red zone — when Palmer hit David Johnson on a 23-yard score with 4:38 remaining in the contest.

Arizona came into the game having converted 11-of-12 red zone visits into touchdowns.

“Just execution, just executing,” Palmer said about the offense’s struggles inside the 20. “We had some plays and didn’t execute. They made some plays and you’re not going to come in and go 90 percent against that team in the red zone, but you need to go 50 (percent) and we didn’t do that.”

Arizona missed opportunities from other places on the field, too. In the second quarter, trailing 7-6, Palmer took a deep shot to John Brown, who was behind the defense for a split second. But there was also double-coverage present and Jenkins made an athletic interception in the end zone to thwart the drive.

Without having seen the film, Palmer didn’t know if the throw was later than it should have been, but he still took responsibility.

“I didn’t give him a good enough chance to make the catch,” he said.

Missed chances aside, the Cardinals did move the ball inside the 20s, putting up 447 yards against a vaunted St. Louis defense. Palmer finished 29-of-46 for 352 yards on the day.

“We had a couple plays we didn’t make on third down,” Palmer said. “It’s a very good defense. I think aside from our defense, it’s one of the best — probably the best — defense. If you can’t pick our team, probably the best defense in the league.”

Despite coming up short in a game he started for the first time since Week 17 of 2013 (a 23-20 loss to San Francisco), Palmer’s confidence in his team hasn’t wavered.

“I think that sometimes these things are a blessing in disguise, just because I think this team will respond exactly the way it’s supposed to,” he said. “We will come back. We’ll get back to work. We’ll learn from it and we’ll move on.”

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