GLENDALE, Ariz. — The Arizona Cardinals scored an impressive 22-6 win over the Carolina Panthers in front of 60,426 fans Sunday at University of Phoenix Stadium.
Yet, most of those fans probably walked away more impressed with the defensive effort the Cardinals put forth than the offensive performance.
Many of the same problems that have plagued the Cardinals all season long popped up again Sunday. Arizona converted just 33 percent (4-of-12) of their third-down opportunities and amassed only 250 yards of offense on the day.
If not for a dominant performance by the Cardinals’ defense — which sacked Carolina quarterback Cam Newton seven times, notched a safety and forced four turnovers — Arizona may have left their home stadium with a loss.
“Phenomenal, lights out, and not surprising whatsoever,” quarterback Carson Palmer said when describing the defense. “Watching those guys work every day — Wednesday, Thursday, Friday — and hearing about the game plan from different guys and hearing about matchups, I’m not surprised whatsoever.
“They were absolutely phenomenal.”
But when the line of questioning turned to his own play, Palmer used far less glittery adjectives.
“Not good enough,” he said. “I’ve played long enough in this league to know that a win is a win and an ugly win’s a win, but I’ve got to continue to work to get better and make more plays for us.”
Palmer completed 19-of-28 passes for a season-low 175 yards. But more importantly, he threw three interceptions, and has been picked seven times in Arizona’s last three games.
Sunday’s first interception came on a flea-flicker during the Cardinals’ first possession. Palmer threw the ball up in a jump-ball situation to Michael Floyd, but it was Carolina rookie Robert Lester who came down with the interception.
Despite the turnover, head coach Bruce Arians absolved his quarterback of any wrongdoing.
“The first one, the flea-flicker, Michael Floyd cannot allow that interception,” Arians said. “We throw a ball up for you that’s a jump ball and it’s one-on-one, it damn sure better not be intercepted.”
The other two were examples of Palmer trying to squeeze the ball to wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald, and Carolina reacting accordingly. Late in the first half, on a first-and-ten from the Carolina 23-yard line, Palmer targeted Fitzgerald in the end zone, but Panthers safety Mike Mitchell made a diving interception.
Then, in the third quarter with Arizona leading 12-6, Palmer didn’t account for Carolina linebacker Luke Kuechly over the middle when looking for Fitzgerald, and the Pro Bowler picked of the pass and returned it 30 yards to the Cardinals’ 29-yard line.
“I can’t try to get the ball to Larry like that,” Palmer said. “You want to get him catches, you want to get him involved, you want to get him touches, but I cannot force the ball to him to get him those touches.
“I just need to do a better job of spreading the ball around.”
Many fans booed the offense’s performance, but the veteran seemed unfazed by the vocal criticism.
“I’ve just got to continue to work and continue to get better and we’ve got a big one this week, going into San Francisco, a big divisional game,” he said. “I expect our defense to play well next week, but offensively, we have to play much better.”