Carson Palmer returned to bring the Arizona Cardinals within one victory of their best six-game start in 38 seasons. Derek Carr continues to impress but couldn’t keep the Oakland Raiders from the brink of their longest losing streak in nearly 52 years.
Arizona looks to remain atop the NFC West on Sunday when it visits Oakland.
The Cardinals (4-1) bounced back from a 41-20 loss at Denver with a 30-20 victory over Washington last Sunday to remain in first place, a half-game ahead of San Francisco. Another win would mark their first 5-1 start since 1976 when they finished 10-4 as the St. Louis Cardinals.
They haven’t won the West since 2009.
"I don’t think we’re going to put a huge emphasis on that," Palmer said of his team’s position in the standings. "We are where we are and the rest of our division is where they are. … We’re a long ways away from thinking about postseason and all the things that can happen, the records and what’s happening in Seattle, St. Louis and San Francisco. That’s not our focus."
Palmer was 28 of 44 for 250 yards and two touchdowns in his first game since suffering a nerve injury Week 1 versus San Diego. He seemed to breathe some life into an Arizona passing attack which had completed just 46.4 percent of its throws in three games started by Drew Stanton. Palmer found Larry Fitzgerald six times for a season-high 98 yards, hitting the eight-time Pro Bowler as well as Michael Floyd for their first touchdowns of the season.
The decision to start Palmer wasn’t made until shortly before game time. After only participating in last Friday’s practice on a limited basis, coach Bruce Arians said Palmer is expected to practice all week.
"He’s a tough guy," said Andre Ellington, who ranks fifth among NFC running backs with 98.6 scrimmage yards per game. "He’s our leader and he wasn’t going to let us down."
Though Palmer provided a boost, Arians was discouraged by his team’s sloppiness. Arizona committed 14 penalties – its most since 2004 – and benefited from four turnovers by Washington in the fourth quarter.
"Offensively, we had chances to put that thing away and couldn’t get it done," Arians said. "We’ve got to find ways to finish things when we have them like that in those situations, when you have a team on the brink."
Palmer was 8-16 as a starter for Oakland from 2011-12, throwing 35 TDs with 27 interceptions in those games. He has won six straight starts against AFC clubs, posting a 108.1 rating over the last five.
Oakland has allowed a 107.6 passer rating – fourth-highest in the NFL.
The Raiders (0-5) gave a scare to first-place San Diego last Sunday but lost 31-28 in their first game under interim coach Tony Sparano. They’ve dropped 11 in a row dating back to last season to tie the second-longest losing streak in team history. The only worse one was a 19-game skid Nov. 11, 1961-Dec. 9, 1962.
Oakland’s only other 0-6 start came in 1962.
"We have to be in these kinds of football games," Sparano said. "We have to win one of these types of football games and that’s how you get this thing turned around."
Carr threw for 282 yards and four TDs – one shy of the league rookie record – despite being limited in practice by a bad left ankle and knee. He was intercepted on Oakland’s final drive with 1:20 remaining, however.
The second-round pick has thrown for eight TDs with five picks.
"He’s continuously made progress in several football games here," Sparano said. "I’m not just talking about one game right now, but he’s gotten better and better each week."
Carr could be poised for more success with Arizona allowing a league-high 309.0 passing yards per game. The Cardinals are also tied for 29th in the NFL with six sacks, while Oakland has surrendered only four – second-fewest in the league.
Andre Holmes has emerged as a weapon for Carr in the past two weeks, catching nine passes for 195 yards and three TDs, including a 77-yard score against the Chargers.
Oakland leads the all-time series 5-3, but Arizona won the last meeting 24-23 at home Sept. 26, 2010.