Cardinals’ next-man-up mentality passes another test

GLENDALE, Ariz. — The Cardinals have relied on a next-man-up mentality all season to overcome major defections, injuries and suspensions while posting the NFL’s best record. That erstwhile cliche is about to face its biggest test. 

Preliminary exams suggest starting quarterback Carson Palmer suffered a torn left ACL injury early in the fourth quarter of Sunday’s game against the St. Louis Rams. Such an injury would end Palmer’s season.

Such news overshadowed another incredible fourth-quarter Arizona rally — the fourth this season — for a 31-14 win at University of Phoenix Stadium. But it didn’t diminish what the Cardinals accomplished — it enhanced it.

"Every guy that puts a hat on Sunday is going to have a hand in this win," coach Bruce Arians said. "It never fails with this football team. They’re as resilient as any bunch I’ve ever been around."

The latest example of that resiliency came midway through the fourth quarter when Palmer went down with the Cardinals trailing 14-10. 

Kicker Chandler Catanzaro missed what would have been a record-setting field goal from 53 yards, running back Andre Ellington was a non-factor despite 23 touches, the defense hadn’t forced any turnovers and the Rams defensive front was having its way with a shockingly ineffective Cardinals offensive line.

In stepped backup QB Drew Stanton, who threw two short passes over the middle, scrambled for four yards and then unleashed a 48-yard touchdown pass to John Brown that completely altered the complexion of the game — just as Brown’s TD catch against the Eagles did two weeks earlier.

"I didn’t even see it," said Stanton, who was hauled to the ground a split second after he released the ball. "Once everybody started cheering I figured it was a touchdown and not a pick."

Cardinals 31, Rams 14

From that point it was "feeding time," defensive end Calais Campbell said.

Cornerback Patrick Peterson intercepted his first pass of the season one play after being flagged for illegal contact. He followed it with an acrobatic pick-6 on the Rams’ next drive to seal the game. 

Cornerback Antonio Cromartie added a 14-yard TD return of a fumble recovery and the Cardinals won going away.

It was the fourth time this season the Cardinals won after trailing in the fourth quarter.

"Any time you watch another defense play well, it’s almost a competition," Campbell said. "We wanted to outplay their defense and when they were getting to Carson we took it personally.

"Early on, they made some big plays but we just said look, ‘(Rams QB Austin Davis) is not going to beat us. We’re too good.’ We knew we would find a way to win."

With the win Arizona improved its NFL-best record to 8-1. The Cardinals maintained a two-game lead over the Seattle Seahawks in the NFC West and improved to 6-0 against NFC foes, a critical factor in determining playoff tiebreakers.

The road will only get harder from here with the 7-2 Detroit Lions, Stanton’s old team, coming to town on Sunday. The Cardinals still must face Seattle (6-3) twice, San Francisco (5-4) on the road and Kansas City (6-3). And they’ll likely have to do it without their starting quarterback the rest of the way.

It is a quarterback-driven league so the magnitude of this injury cannot be overstated. But for a team that has already lost four expected defensive starters to injury, one to suspension and one to free agency, no loss feels too crippling.

"Every guy believes and trusts in each other and knows that the next man coming in is going to play at the same or even higher level than the starter," Cromartie said. "That’s how we look at it." 

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