TEMPE, Ariz. – Since Kurt Warner retired after the 2009 season, six different quarterbacks have taken a regular-season snap for the Arizona Cardinals.
In 2012 alone, four different signal callers started a game for the team. An old adage says if you have two quarterbacks, you don’t really have one, but there’s nothing in the book about having four. Based on experience, though, it’s probably not a good thing.
Life is different for the team this season. Entering Week 15, only two people other than Carson Palmer have thrown passes for the Cardinals, and neither are quarterbacks.
So perhaps it’s no coincidence that the Cardinals, at 8-5, have a chance to post their best record since 2009, and possibly since moving to the Valley.
“It’s huge,” Cardinals coach Bruce Arians said of having stability at quarterback. “When you look at teams that are in the playoffs already, they’re solid at quarterback.”
At this point, only three teams have clinched playoff spots, and they are led by Russell Wilson, Andrew Luck and Peyton Manning, respectively.
Of course, it’s no secret that the key to winning in the NFL is good quarterback play. In Arizona, when the Cardinals had it, they won. When they didn’t, they lost. It’s not a difficult concept.
Yet, as the Cardinals know better than anyone, finding a good quarterback is easier said than done. They tried via the draft, trade and free agency, but before this season none of them led to the right passer.
But Palmer, a veteran who was acquired from the Oakland Raiders for only a seventh-round pick, may be the right guy. He ranks eighth in the league in passing yards and ninth in completion percentage, and while his interception total is still high, he’s been picked off just four times in the last six games while throwing 12 touchdown passes.
In last Sunday’s 30-10 win over the St. Louis Rams, Palmer tied a franchise record for completion percentage in a game at 84.4 percent, and on the season the 33-year-old is completing 64.3 percent of his passes with 3,458 yards, 20 touchdowns and 17 interceptions. At his current pace, he’ll finish among the franchise’s all-time leaders in attempts, completions, yards and touchdowns in a single season.
Once someone fans wanted benched, Palmer has instead turned into a quarterback the team can rely on, which is something that cannot be understated. No drama, no controversy. He’s been the guy, and he will continue to be the guy.
“It’s extremely important,” center Lyle Sendlein said. “That way there’s no distractions in the locker room and sometimes players disagree with coaches on who’s playing, and when it’s a clear-cut decision on who your quarterback is and he’s our captain, he’s our leader, it’s one thing that’s not a distraction.”
Indeed, quarterback is a position the Cardinals have not had to worry about much this season. Because even when Palmer was struggling early in the season, Arians continued to voice support for the veteran and never really seemed close to making a change.
That decision, or lack thereof, seems to have paid off, as Palmer has since entrenched himself as the team’s unquestioned starter and leader.
“It makes everybody comfortable, including the defense, they know if we’re ever in a jam, Carson can get us out of it,” offensive coordinator Harold Goodwin said. “I think it gives us a whole lot of confidence as an offense that that guy’s behind center.”
As Goodwin said, that resonates throughout the entire team.
“Fans only see what’s going on on Sunday, they just care about the output that you put out there on Sunday,” cornerback Jerraud Powers said. “They don’t see all the hard work and everything you try to do just to get on the same page with the guy beside you, and Carson and the offense have done a tremendous job of just working through the nicks and the kinks and getting on the same page and they’ve been playing tremendous, especially the past five weeks or so.”
Is the reason for Palmer’s resurgence really that simple? Was it only a matter of time before the veteran, now in his 10th season, would start playing at a higher level?
“I think we have come a long way as a group,” Palmer said. “I know we have come a long way in the trust department for sure, just trusting where a guy is going to be, trusting where the ball is going to be on their end.
“Guys are comfortable with the plays that we are running and the schemes that we are running. Just repetition -—through repetition and really, quite frankly, doing it wrong.”
Arians noted that throughout his career, quarterbacks have seen their interception totals take a dramatic drop following the player’s first eight games in his system.
“Once you get the nuances of everything and you know where the ball is going pre-snap once you see the coverage and you start trusting the receivers, those things come down,” he said.
And as the interceptions have come down, the team’s win total has gone up. The Cardinals have won five of their last six games to remain in the playoff race. It may not have been possible had Palmer not remained under center.
“Knock on wood, Carson’s been extremely healthy, he’s been able to come in every single week,” guard Daryn Colledge said, adding that injuries played a role in what happened at the position last season. “It’s one of those things where Carson has been able to keep himself healthy, we’ve been able to keep him a little healthy, and he’s been able to go out there and play at a consistent level. That’s something you can’t put a price tag on. It gives us the reassurance that we know, ‘Hey, that guy’s going to be back there behind us every single week.'”
Should that continue for the final three weeks of the season, Palmer would become the first QB since Kurt Warner in 2008 to start all 16 games for the Cardinals. Perhaps not coincidentally, Arizona reached the Super Bowl that season.
“It’s been good to have the stability at that position,” receiver Larry Fitzgerald said. “I think everybody appreciates that and understands that when you keep him standing up and healthy and the same guy in there, everybody gets the same amount of reps and you get to have that continuity that you all want, so it’s been a great time having Carson back there. He’s been a phenomenal leader for us.”
A full season with a good quarterback is rarely a bad thing, and while the road to get there may not have been easy, the Cardinals appear to be a few games away from doing just that. On that note, it may have been Arians who said it best.
“Without a quarterback, you don’t have a chance.”