TEMPE, Ariz. — Carson Palmer has thrown for 4,542 yards and 34 touchdowns this season, the first number leaving him 72 yards shy of a franchise record and the second setting one. He is an MVP candidate, and the Cardinals are 29-8 with him under center the last three seasons, including a 26-4 mark since Week 8 of the 2013 campaign.
That the 36-year-old is important to the Arizona Cardinals’ Super Bowl hopes is an understood fact.
That Sunday’s game against the Seattle Seahawks could mean something for the Cardinals’ postseason seeding is also a fact, yet the concept of playing Palmer in the game is not as widely understood.
Sure, Arizona’s chances of beating the Seahawks are exponentially better with No. 3 on the field, but then again, so too are their postseason hopes and at this point in the season, those are what many have their eyes set on.
Monday, when asked how he would approach the Week 17 matchup with Seattle, Cardinals coach Bruce Arians said he and the team would treat it as if it was Game 1 of the season.
“We don’t want to set a pattern of different behavior,” he reasoned.
That makes sense. The Cardinals are 13-2 and winners of nine in a row, and the last thing anyone should want to do is mess with the routine, the rhythm they have created. Still, the idea that Palmer should sit this one out is not born out of nothing. The idea that the quarterback is essential to the team’s legitimate Super Bowl hopes is reasonable, so it would make sense if while the rest of the Cardinals play, the rules would be different for him — especially after he missed last season’s brief playoff run with a torn ACL.
“No. No,” Arians said on if Palmer may sit at all in order to ensure his health for the postseason. “Like I’ve said, it’s no different than any other ball game.”
How honest Arians is being when he says that remains to be seen, because in some ways, it’s difficult to imagine him playing all four quarters if the Carolina Panthers are destroying the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and locking the Cardinals into the NFC’s No. 2 seed. Sure, the Cardinals would like to beat the Seahawks, sweeping the season series and knocking them off in University of Phoenix Stadium for the first time since 2012, but is that enough of an incentive to risk whatever disastrous thing could happen?
No risk it, no biscuit has to have a limit, right?
Not really, and Palmer wouldn’t have it any other way. If the Cardinals are playing, he wants to be on the field. The idea that that he may be more injury-prone and need to be preserved like fine china is one that does not bother him, he said, but it’s also one he does not subscribe to.
“I’m not sure what the perception is,” he said. “Everybody wants to be healthy, regardless of David (Johnson) being a rookie, myself, Cory Redding, some of the older guys on the team. You want to play regardless.
“You don’t want to think about that. You can’t think about that. You can’t fear that, worry about that and prepare any differently. You’ve got to go out and play.”
That’s not to say people do not get nervous every time he takes a sack or is hit following a pass. While the injury he suffered last season came without contact, knowing all it takes is one hit to derail the team’s hopes is enough to leave some a bit squeamish. The same goes for some of the players, sort of.
“It’s football, Carson is a tough guy, he gets hit he gets back up,” receiver John Brown said. “I think he likes getting hit sometimes because he doesn’t get hit at all much, but it’s part of the game. But I’m thinking yeah, ‘Get up,’ but once he gets up fast, it’s a good thing because he’s a big part of this team.”
Palmer has been sacked 25 times this season and gotten up after every one of them with no trouble. He’s also been hit a 95 times, and in fact, his only injury this year was when he hurt a finger on his right hand after delivering a pass in Philadelphia.
Really, the idea that Palmer — an NFL player — must be shielded from this terrible thing that is bound to happen if he plays is a little off. It’s not like the Cardinals plan on allowing the Seahawks defense free runs at the quarterback, whether it is Palmer, backup Drew Stanton or third-stringer Matt Barkley.
That’s why, according to left tackle Jared Veldheer, the question of which quarterback should play is one he and the line do not concern themselves with.
“We do our job no matter who’s back there, what’s happening,” he said. “Those decisions aren’t for us to make. We don’t look at it as something we can control, so there’s no point in getting up in arms about it, we’ve got a job to do no matter what and we’ve got to do it.”
Veldheer added there’s not a doubt in his mind that they can protect their quarterback — no matter who it is — and noted how players, as Palmer said, cannot think about the possibility of injuries happening.
“No, you’ve got to be on the offense,” he said.
The best way the Cardinals can be on the offense is with their offense intact, both Sunday against Seattle and in the playoffs against whichever opponent they face. As of right now, however, only one of those matchups concerns Palmer, and that’s the one he’s focused on and preparing for. It’s also why he was one of the many players who approached Arians and said they wanted to play Sunday.
“I don’t know if we have anybody that doesn’t want to play,” he said. “That’s one of the things that, I think, Steve Keim did a great job of when he got here, is turning over the roster, getting guys that love the game. Love Sundays but also love the preparation.
“This team works as hard as any team in the league. I don’t care what anybody says. Because guys want to get better, guys want to improve, guys want to practice to clean things up from last week. As good as last week was on defense, I know those guys were chomping at the bit to get out there and fix a handful of things that tripped us up. Same thing goes with offense.”