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Carson Palmer elevating himself to Kurt Warner’s lofty stature

Arizona Cardinals quarterback Carson Palmer (3) throws against the Minnesota Vikings during the first half of an NFL football game, Thursday, Dec. 10, 2015, in Glendale, Ariz. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

GLENDALE, Ariz. — Carson Palmer never wanted to be compared to Kurt Warner. He knew the comparisons were inevitable when he arrived in Arizona, however, so he never stopped dreaming about reviving his career the same way Warner did.

“When I’m asked about it I can’t help but think, ‘man, I hope that happens,'” he said at the time.

It has happened, and the latest evidence came in poetic fashion in the Cardinals’ 23-20, playoff-clinching win over the Minnesota Vikings on Thursday at University of Phoenix Stadium.

With a 42-yard touchdown pass to Michael Floyd in the third quarter, Palmer broke Warner’s single-season franchise record for passing touchdowns with his 31st. Just as importantly, Palmer completed 25 of 35 passes for 310 yards and two touchdowns to lead the Cardinals to a critical win over another playoff team and put Arizona in the driver’s seat for a first-round bye in the NFC playoffs.

“When the records start falling the season speaks for itself,” coach Bruce Arians said. “Those were high records Kurt set. I think that with three games left, (Carson)’s just going to set them even higher.”

It was 13 months ago that Palmer tore his ACL against the Rams, ending his season and ending what looked like a gold-paved road for the Cardinals (then 9-1) to the Super Bowl at University of Phoenix Stadium. Maybe it was fitting, then that Palmer broke No. 13’s record in this physically taxing Thursday game.

From the time he limped into the media room last November to conduct one of the more gut-wrenching and courageous press conferences you’ll ever witness, all the way through the grueling rehab, Palmer never wavered in his commitment to return and take another shot at age 35.

“Excited for Carson knowing all that he has gone through to get to this point!” Warner said via text. “But what I appreciate is that his play on the field has been surpassed by his work ethic and leadership. And he has set the tone for his team!

“Glad it was him that broke my record!”

Palmer addressed the milestone with genuine humility when asked about it after the game.

“Kurt has been a great player for a long time in a bunch of leagues and I have been a fan of his; the way he played the game,” he said. “To break that record is a tremendous honor… but that’s not why I play the game. I play the game to win and have fun.”

The quote is emblematic of a guy that wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald called “selfless” and unburdened by comparisons to a franchise icon.

“Carson’s not one to compare himself to anybody else,” Fitzgerald said. “I don’t think he ever felt pressure or anything like that.

“He’s comfortable with who he is and that’s why we love him so much.”

Whether Palmer wanted the comparisons or not, they are front and center now. The Cardinals are on the verge of hosting their first playoff game since Warner retired, and there is talk of a title for the first time since then.

Comparisons aren’t so bad when they turn out so favorably.

“It means you’re doing something right,” said center Lyle Sendlein, who snapped to both quarterbacks. “We’re rolling and Carson is rolling so we’re just going to try to keep him upright.”

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