GLENDALE, Ariz. — The comparisons are eerily similar — and Carson Palmer knows it.
Just like Kurt Warner, Palmer was once a 30-something quarterback perceived on the downside of a once-illustrious career when he arrived in Arizona. Warner proceeded to reinvent himself and was celebrated for doing so Monday night when inducted into the franchise’s Ring of Honor for his five memorable years with the Cardinals.
Palmer isn’t ready to think about the possibility of his own future halftime ceremony yet let alone a Pro Football Hall of Fame induction like the one that ultimately awaits Warner. But with the way his Cardinals stint is unfolding, Palmer may someday have more than his name emblazoned on the University of Phoenix Stadium’s terrace level.
He also has a legitimate shot at taking Arizona one step further than Warner did six seasons ago by leading the Cardinals into a Super Bowl and winning it for the first time.
“We have a lot of football to play but I hope to look back and kind of feel the same way he did,” Palmer told FOXSports.com of Warner. “He did awesome things for this organization.”
Palmer is beginning to do the same, evidenced by his latest escapades in Arizona’s 18-17 season-opening victory over San Diego in the final game of Week 1 on Monday night.
Head coach Bruce Arians accurately described Palmer as being “outstanding in the fourth quarter — when he has to be.” Palmer completed 8 of 12 passes for 85 yards and two touchdowns to help erase San Diego’s 11-point lead entering the fourth quarter. He then ran out the clock after Arizona’s defense stopped the Chargers on fourth down with 1:53 remaining.
“I don’t think anybody was surprised,” Palmer nonchalantly said of the offense’s mental approach before its game-winning drive. “I think we all expected it.”
That’s a major difference between where the Cardinals were last year at this time.
Arizona already was stout defensively. But once Palmer & Co. began to grasp Arians’ complex offensive system, the Cardinals rebounded from a bumpy start to win seven of their final nine games.
Arians told FOXSports.com that Palmer’s mastery of the scheme at this stage is “like an eighth grader sitting in a first-grade class.”
“There’s no comparison,” Palmer said. “Everybody is just comfortable. It’s Year 2 and we should be. Guys are just confident in what they’re doing and everybody is playing fast.
“When you’re not 100 percent feeling great about what you’re doing, you play at about 92 percent. That’s not good enough in this league.”
The Cardinals weren’t good enough to make the playoffs in the rugged NFC last season even with a 10-6 record. Palmer entered the offseason more determined than ever to rectify that in 2014. Palmer took it upon himself to become even more acclimated with Arians’ offensive concepts so he could better understand exactly why plays were being called as well as mastery of nuances like pass-protection and sight adjustments with his receivers.
“He took the bull by the horns,” Arians said. “He went through everything. And then I had some new things I wanted him to look at and see if the personnel fit us.
“He bought in. He understands why we do what we do now. That’s nine-tenths of the battle.”
Just how much fight Palmer had left was in question just a few years ago. He “retired” before the start of the 2011 campaign because of frustration with his lot in Cincinnati after seven rollercoaster seasons. The Bengals then traded him midseason to Oakland where Palmer was reunited with Raiders head coach Hue Jackson, Palmer’s offensive coordinator in Cincinnati.
We’ll never know how that marriage would have worked over the long haul. Jackson was fired immediately after the season ended, leading to a frustrating 4-12 season in Oakland the next year with Palmer surrounded by new coaches and inferior offensive talent. Palmer then escaped the Raiders in the 2013 offseason by refusing to restructure a lucrative contract, leading to his trade to the Cardinals.
“When we got him he could still make every throw,” Arians said. “It was just a matter of asking him to do a lot — a lot more than he’s ever been asked to do. He’s bought in.
“He’s doing everything that we could ask of him. He’s so resilient and so tough like he showed tonight. He’ll win the game for you if you give him the chance.”
Palmer’s game-winning throw Monday came on a perfectly executed throwback screen pass to speedy rookie wide receiver John Brown, who zipped 13 yards into the end zone with 2:25 remaining. Palmer completed 24 of 37 passes overall for 304 yards and the two scores. He didn’t throw an interception, which was a recurring problem last season. And even though he was sacked twice — losing a fumble on one of them that led to a third-quarter Chargers touchdown — Palmer often evaded San Diego’s pressure with the type of mobility he possessed before suffering a major knee injuring during the 2005 postseason. Palmer laughed when told he finished with a career-high 29 rushing yards on four scrambles.
“It’s been a long time since I’ve done that,” Palmer said. “High school, probably.”
By the time of his high school graduation in 1999, Palmer was preparing to enter Southern Cal while Warner was beginning his rags-to-riches NFL story in St. Louis. Warner came out of nowhere to replace an injured Trent Green and serve as ringleader for the “Greatest Show on Turf” offense that broke numerous NFL records en route to a Super Bowl XXXIV triumph.
The 2014 Cardinals have their own championship dream and would create their own history in the process if able to become the first home team to ever land a Super Bowl berth. There was a message on the stadium’s massive video board Monday night counting down the 146 days until the game is played in Glendale.
“I saw it up on the board,” Palmer admitted with a sly grin on his face. “I was cheating.”
Palmer then hesitated when asked whether it was serving as motivation.
“Yeah it is, but we’re back in about four hours,” Palmer said as his teammates were leaving the locker room. “After I watch this film, it’s onto the next game in New York.”
Or from a big-picture perspective, a Sunday matchup against the Giants that may someday be remembered as another Palmer stop on a Warner-like comeback tour.
* Thursday night football. OK, who am I kidding? Hanging over the Pittsburgh-Baltimore game like a dark cloud is the Ray Rice situation. Although he wasn’t going to play anyway because of an NFL suspension, Rice’s release following the emergence of TMZ.com video showing domestic violence against his now-wife reverberated through the Ravens locker room. Besides having to answer outsider questions about the situation, there also is a personal loss and sadness for some Ravens players. When in Baltimore covering the club, I’ve always found Rice regarded as a well-liked teammate. But he made a horrible mistake, didn’t come clean about it and paid the price. While this sounds callous, the reality from a football standpoint is that head coach John Harbaugh must get his squad focused on besting its archrival rather than living in the past or the Ravens will be falling to 0-2.
“At the end of the day, we’re focusing on our game plan and going out there to play ball,” Ravens wide receiver Torrey Smith told the media Monday night. “That’s just a product of it. We lost one of our best players here and he was a great Raven. It feels weird to even say that. That’s the punishment and he has to deal with it. It’s way worse for him than it is for us. We just have to get ready for the next (game).”
* The NFL and NFLPA may finally agree upon an overhaul of the league’s drug-testing program that would likely include human-growth hormone testing, stricter DUI penalties and more lenience in marijuana testing levels. Media reports also indicate there is a chance the NFL would allow suspended players like Josh Gordon, Wes Welker and Orlando Scandrick to return early as part of the bargaining process. As for the HGH talks that have stalled for three years, don’t immediately expect a bevy of positive results simply because the testing protocol is still in the primitive stages. But knowing there are finally firm penalties in place for being caught will hopefully deter players from cheating to gain a competitive edge.
* Will Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers throw a pass in Richard Sherman’s direction Sunday when San Diego hosts Seattle? Aaron Rodgers didn’t seem to even breathe in Sherman’s direction let alone throw to his right against the all-world cornerback during Green Bay’s 36-16 opening loss. Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll said the Packers were “cutting the field in half” with their strategy. He wasn’t complaining. Even if the passes aren’t completed, history shows opponents like San Diego must challenge Sherman at least a little bit to keep a healthy defensive respect or they’ll have a long day on offense trying to move the football on what becomes a smaller field.
UPON FURTHER REVIEW: There were six rookie or first-year kickers on Week 1 rosters, which the league says is its highest total since at least the 2002 season. But it was the veterans who made the clutch kicks. Atlanta’s Matt Bryant, Buffalo’s Dan Carpenter and Pittsburgh’s Shaun Suisham provided the game-winning field goals for their respective teams.
HOT SEAT: New England’s offensive line.
Upon further review, trading left guard Logan Mankins to Tampa Bay last month might not have been the best idea. But the Patriots’ problems in last Sunday’s 33-20 loss to Miami run deeper than the interior linemen and in-game personnel shuffling that didn’t pay dividends. Both tackles (Nate Solder and Sebastian Vollmer) looked stuck in cement at times against a Dolphins pass rush led by end Cameron Wake, who had two of the four sacks registered against quarterback Tom Brady. Dave DeGuglielmo, who is replacing an assistant coaching legend in the retired Dante Scarnecchia, must get better up front Sunday against a Minnesota Vikings defense that had five sacks – including two by end Everson Griffen — in a 34-6 whooping of St. Louis.
NUMBERS OF NOTE: Only 23 of the 288 teams that have qualified for the playoffs since 1990 opened the season 0-2. The 2013 Carolina Panthers were the lone squad in the previous five seasons to dig out of that hole. That places even more pressure on the teams that lost in Week 1 to rebound, including five of last year’s playoff teams (New England, New Orleans, Kansas City, Indianapolis and Green Bay).