GLENDALE, Ariz. — Carson Palmer has never shied away from comparisons to Kurt Warner. When he arrived in Arizona this offseason, he admitted he was hoping for a career revival similar to what Warner experienced with the Cardinals.
Through the first seven games of the season, the idea was almost laughable. Palmer looked no closer to Warner than the litany of QBs who came before him the past three seasons. He threw 13 interceptions, he missed receivers and he took sacks with regularity as the Cardinals struggled to a 3-4 record.
The last four weeks have been a different story.Palmer has posted four of his five highest passer ratings this season in the past four games. It’s no coincidence that all four of those games were wins, including Sunday’s 40-11 rout of the AFC South-leading Colts at University of Phoenix Stadium in which he completed 26 of 37 passes for 314 yards and two TDs.
“I think this was a respect game,” said Palmer, whose club had beaten three bottom feeders the previous weeks in the Falcons, Texans and Jaguars. “I think we’re better than people think, and when you beat a good team and that team has beaten good teams, that ups your respect among your peers and throughout the league.”
The same goes for Palmer.
It goes without saying that the Cardinals would not be in this position had their defense not been so consistent throughout the season. There are so many playmakers on that side of the ball that’s it’s hard to decide who has been the most valuable between Calais Campbell, Karlos Dansby, Darnell Dockett, Daryl Washington, Tyrann Mathieu and Patrick Peterson.
But for the Cardinals to pose any sort of postseason threat, they had to get their offensive house in order. With the exception of a big hiccup in Jacksonville, the running game has been solid the past few weeks and the pass protection has been improved.
But most importantly in this QB-driven league, Palmer has been brilliant. In this four-game winning streak, he has completed 89 of 129 passes (69 percent) for 1,146 yards, eight touchdowns and just two interceptions. Strong QB play is the biggest difference between the first half of this season and now, and it’s the biggest reason that the Cardinals are legitimate playoff contenders for the first time since Warner retired.
“I think we’re finally we’re we need to be,” coach Bruce Arians said. “You’re not going to fear us, but you’re going to respect us.”
It was probably unfair to expect new players, new coaches and a new offense to jell as soon as the games began this season, even if the players themselves won’t reach for that excuse.
“With the offseason as long as it is now, there really is no excuse for us to have started as slow as we did,” center Lyle Sendlein said. “But the important thing is to be playing well at the end of the year.”
The Cardinals (7-4) are doing just that, so the coming weeks will be filled with talk of playoff scenarios and pivotal matchups. Isn’t that a welcome switch from the past three seasons?
This is what quarterback play looks like, Arizona. Palmer teased you with it in Week 1, but now he’s delivering the goods. This is what the Cardinals got consistently in Warner’s last two seasons as a pro. And this is why all bets are off now when gauging the Cardinals’ postseason potential.
“When things weren’t going well, I knew they would,” said Palmer, who has spoken in the same even tones throughout the season. “I knew we would start trusting each other and get on the same page and get that timing and that rhythm of the passing game and the running game.
“I didn’t know whether it was next week or three weeks from then when you look back on the season, but I knew it was coming.”