TEMPE, Ariz. — The last time Carson Palmer dropped back to pass against the Seattle Seahawks, he lofted a beautiful throw to Michael Floyd that went for a 31-yard touchdown.
The touchdown proved to be the game-winner, as the Cardinals went into Seattle and won 17-10, ending the Seahawks’ 14-game home winning streak.
That game was on Dec. 23, 2013, and by the time Arizona takes the field Sunday for a key divisional matchup, 692 days will have passed.
Of course, the Cardinals have played the Seahawks twice since that fateful afternoon in 2013 — losing 19-3 in Seattle and 35-6 in Arizona — with Palmer participating in neither affair due to a torn ACL.
That fact has not been lost on Cardinals coach Bruce Arians, who multiple times has alluded to the fact that while the Seahawks are good (they’ve been to each of the last two Super Bowls, winning one), the last time his team faced Seattle with Palmer, it won. Needless to say, as the Cardinals prepare for Sunday’s tilt, they are pleased to do so knowing that No. 3 will be under center.
His presence, Arians said, is the difference between a win and a loss. Technically speaking, he’s not wrong.
“If you have your quarterback, you have a chance,” he said, adding that his team had a chance to win in Seattle last season but did not support backup QB Drew Stanton nor tackle well. “As far as the confidence in the locker room when Carson is in there, it’s totally different.”
From a statistical standpoint, the benefits of having Palmer on the field are obvious. This season he is second in the NFL in touchdown passes with 20, is fifth in passing yards with 2,386, and has a QB rating of 110.2. On pace to set some franchise records, the Cardinals have won 19 of the last 23 games he has started — a stretch that includes that victory in Seattle in which he threw four interceptions.
That a healthy Palmer has led to a different vibe leading into this game should not really come as much of a surprise at all.
“Going up there with our team fully healthy — I think we got a couple guys back this week too,” safety Tyrann Mathieu said. “It’s just confidence for us to go out there knowing hey, we’ve got all our bullets in the gun, it’s really time for us to go out and execute.”
Last season, the Cardinals went into the game a little light on ammunition.
“It’s great to finally be able to go play against the two-time West champs and NFC representatives over the last year,” receiver Larry Fitzgerald said. “It’s nice to have a fully healthy group and to go up there with our full arsenal, and play against them with pretty much their full arsenal, and seeing where we stand.
“If we want to win the West, it’s got to go through Seattle and it’s a great opportunity for us.”
The same was true last season boasting a 9-1 record, but by that point Palmer had been lost for the season and Fitzgerald also missed the matchup in Seattle while dealing with a sprained MCL in his left knee. Arizona lost that matchup 19-3 as their offense tallied just 2014 total yards on the afternoon. The rematch in Arizona four weeks later, with Fitzgerald back on the field but no Palmer (or Stanton) was worse, with the Cardinals losing 35-6.
Palmer said missing both games against Seattle last season was “tough.”
“It’s tough to miss any, but being a team returning from a trip to the Super Bowl and all those things and all the hype that’s around the Seahawks, it was difficult,” he added. “It was a long game sitting on the couch and watching it.”
The Cardinals wouldn’t use not having Palmer as an excuse at the time, because really, what good what it have done? But everyone knew then just how much his absence hurt their chances, and conversely, they know exactly how much his presence helps them.
“Carson being on the field is a plus — he’s an elite quarterback, one of the best in the league without a doubt,” safety/linebacker Deone Bucannon said. “For him to be present, because we didn’t have him last year, of course it’s going to make a difference.”
“It’s a blessing to finally play with our starting quarterback,” cornerback Patrick Peterson said. “We always have that ‘next man up’ mentality but you always have a little bit more relief when you have an opportunity to go in there with what are your star guys playing.”
With their stars on the field this season, the Cardinals have looked about as good as anyone in the league.
Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman said the Cardinals aren’t too different with Palmer than without, saying they still run the same concepts and plays.
However, the two-time Pro Bowler did say Palmer looks “pretty good” thus far.
“He’s completing passes. He’s taking risks,” he said. “His receivers are doing a great job of catching the football for him and making big plays, so he’s having a good year.”
Indeed, it’s not just about Palmer. Fitzgerald is having a resurgent season while John Brown and Michael Floyd have emerged as dangerous weapons in the passing game, too. The Cardinals have also been very good running the football, with Chris Johnson entering Week 10 third in the league in rushing.
Arizona offensive coordinator Harold Goodwin said that — along with Palmer — is what leads to having so much confidence.
“The biggest thing we’ve got to do is make sure we’re executing, because as you guys know when we don’t execute and we turn the ball over we don’t look very good,” he said. “But when we’re on it and we’re playing well, we look pretty good, like one of the best offenses in the league.”
The statistics — for Palmer as well as the offense as a whole — back up the claim. The Cardinals are sixth in the NFL in total yards and second in points per game. They have shown good balance between the pass and run, and their offensive line has played well.
Plenty has changed since last season; even more has changed since 2013.
Speaking of the team he led into Seattle and won with two years ago, Palmer said, “We’re 10 times better than we were the last time I went there.”
Sunday, in front of a national television audience, the Cardinals will get a chance to prove their QB right. Just having him on the field makes a considerable difference.
“It just makes us feel even better about ourselves,” receiver John Brown said. “So we’re just ready to roll.”
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