GLENDALE, Ariz. — Carson Palmer did not need practice to come pretty close to making perfect Sunday.
Although Palmer did not throw a pass in practice after tweaking his elbow on a strip-sack at Philadelphia last week, he completed 27 of 32 passes for 269 yards and a touchdown in the Cardinals’ 30-10 victory. His 84.4 completion percentage was the second best in a game in franchise history, behind only Kurt Warner’s NFL-record 92.3 percent against the Jaguars in 2009.
“I didn’t throw one ball, and I was definitely worried about that, but that was the plan,” Palmer said. “Tom Reed (head trainer) and his staff are the best in the business. He had a plan from Monday on, and we stuck to it. When he told me I would be fine and I just needed to stick with what he was saying, I knew I was going to play.”
Palmer worked with the running game during the week and did his regular film study, although coach Bruce Arians said he did not know Palmer would start until two hours before the game.
“I think the rest did him well,” Arians. “It was exactly the performance that we needed. He protected the ball well. I can’t say enough about where he is right now. The level he is playing at is extremely high.”
Palmer and Larry Fitzgerald combined on 12 catches for 96 yards and a touchdown, that a 7-yard slant with 50 seconds left in the first half that gave the Cardinals a 14-3 lead.
“He showed a lot of toughness today,” Fitzgerald said of Palmer. “He’s a competitor and our emotional leader on this offense. He told me he was going to play, and all you can do is take a man at his word. Carson is one of those guys who does everything necessary to prepare himself. I knew he was taking in everything cerebrally and he was going to know where to go with the ball.”
Palmer has thrown for 3,458 yards and 20 touchdowns this season and, just as importantly, has been interception-free in three of the last four games. His 64.3 completion percentage is among the top eight in the league.
Limited practice could be a recipe the rest of the way, Arians said, to keep Palmer’s elbow from getting aggravated.
“We’ll see how it feels on Wednesday. It could be one of those things that does linger throughout the season,” Arians said. “It wouldn’t hurt Drew (Stanton, the backup quarterback) to get those snaps just in case.”
John Abraham wore Mike Bibby’s old No. 10 Vancouver Grizzlies jersey and hat to the game Sunday, another way to emphasize his goal of 10 sacks for the season. He needed two; he got three, in the process passing Lawrence Taylor to move into ninth place in NFL history with 133 career sacks. Taylor and Leslie O’Neal were tied for 10th with 132 1/2.
“It’s good to get a personal goal, but it is even better to get a win. How we played today on both sides of the ball showed what kind of team we can be. That’s what impressed me the most,” Abraham said. “Now I’m going to try to walk down Strahan (Michael, the former Giants defensive end).”
Strahan, who played in New York with the Giants when Abraham started his career with the Jets, has 141 1/2 sacks. In between are Richard Dent (137 1/2), John Randle (137 1/2) and Jason Taylor (139 1/2).
Abraham caused a fumble with his first sack and got a safety with his second, stunting inside from right end to smother Rams quarterback Kellen Clemens and give Arizona a 23-7 lead with 9:10 remaining in the third quarter. His last sack came in the final minute. He is the NFL’s career active sack leader, and he has all of his sacks in the Cardinals’ last seven games.
“Just whip everybody they put in front of him,” Arians said when asked what Abraham has done the last two months. “He takes care of himself extremely well, and we’re just going to keep letting him go.”
BEST YEAR EVER
The Cardinals always knew what they had in Karlos Dansby, a linebacker who in this age of specialization never leaves the field. They made him their franchise player twice in his first stint with the team from 2004-09, and he is playing even better since his return.
His 23-yard interception two plays into the second half gave the Cardinals a 21-3 lead, and he had a sack among his eight tackles, further strengthening his Pro Bowl credentials. He leads the team and is among the league leaders with 114 tackles.
“By far the best season I’ve had,” said Dansby, who returned this year after spending the previous four seasons in Miami. “I’ve made a lot of sacrifice this season. I’ve put a lot of work in. I’m not gong to lie to you. Studying, preparation and all that extra stuff we are doing.”
Dansby catches 130 balls a day in practice in order to soften his hands for the play like he made Sunday, when he stepped in front of a pass intended for Jared Cox and ran untouched into the end zone.
“I’ve dropped too many interceptions this season, and I can’t let that opportunity slip through my fingers again,” he said.
He has two interception returns for touchdowns this season, the first in a 40-11 victory over Indianapolis on Nov. 24, and has four interception returns for touchdowns in his career, the first two coming in 2005. Only cornerback Aeneas Williams (six) and safety Larry Wilson (five) have more scoring returns in franchise history.
Dansby said his release by the Dolphins provided plenty of motivation, and when the Cardinals called, he was ready.
“I knew it was perfect. People thought I was done, washed up. Not on my watch.”
The Cardinals (8-5) held serve in the NFC playoff race with their victory over the Rams, but they got no help from the other wild-card challengers as they enter the last three games of the season, starting with next week’s game against the Titans and finishing with the Seahawks and 49ers.
— Philadelphia (8-5) scored 28 points in the fourth quarter on a snow-covered Lincoln Financial Field to overtake Detroit 34-20, with Eagles running back LeSean McCoy finishing with 217 yards rushing and two touchdowns. Philadelphia has Minnesota, Chicago and Dallas remaining, although only the Bears game is at home.
— San Francisco (9-4) beat Seattle on a field goal with 26 seconds remaining to end the Seahawks’ recent series domination. Seattle (11-2) is in all likelihood going to win the NFC West regardless, but now the 49ers have a game up on the Cardinals with the tiebreaker advantage (division record) and with games remaining against Tampa Bay and Atlanta before the season finale at University of Phoenix Stadium.
— Carolina (9-3) visited New Orleans in the Sunday night game, the first of two meetings between the teams in the final four weeks. The Cardinals would like one team, preferably the Saints, to sweep since they beat the Panthers earlier this season and would win a tiebreaker if the two are tied in the wild card race.