TEMPE, Ariz. (AP) These are Drew Stanton’s Cardinals now.
After 7 1/2 seasons as a backup, Stanton gets the opportunity he’s wanted for so long, to be a starting quarterback in the NFL. And not just for a game or two.
A season-ending knee injury to Carson Palmer means Stanton, as long as he stays healthy, will direct the Arizona Cardinals’ offense. He inherits a team with the league’s best record at 8-1, and his teammates say they have full confidence in him.
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It’s a confidence rooted in his three earlier starts this season. The former Michigan State quarterback went 2-1 while Palmer was sidelined with a nerve injury in his throwing shoulder, helping the team to a road victory over the New York Giants and a home win over San Francisco.
In his other start at Denver, the Cardinals were within striking distance when Stanton was knocked out of the game with a concussion. The Broncos are the only team to beat Arizona so far this season.
”We have shown that we can win with a backup quarterback,” cornerback Patrick Peterson said. ”We won’t make any excuses like some of these other teams.”
Stanton, whose wife delivered the couple’s second child Monday night, went four years without taking a regular-season snap before this season.
”It’s an opportunity I’ve been looking forward to for a long time,” he said. ”It’s been eight years now that I’ve been working toward this, so I don’t take it lightly. It comes under unfortunate circumstances, without a doubt, but it’s also part of my job description.”
Stanton’s first start since Palmer’s season ended comes against the Detroit Lions, the team he was with in his first five NFL seasons. He had four starts, one in 2009 and three in 2010. The Lions’ defense, ranked No. 1 in the NFL, bears little resemblance to the one Stanton knew back then.
”There are only two guys that were with me a couple years ago in Detroit,” he said. ”Yeah, they have the same helmets and the same jerseys, but a lot of different guys are over there.”
Stanton said he matured as a quarterback after leaving Detroit and going to Indianapolis in 2012. Cardinals coach Bruce Arians was the Colts’ offensive coordinator, then became interim head coach when Chuck Pagano contracted leukemia.
Stanton never got on the field as backup to Andrew Luck, but he said he ”fell in love” with Arians’ offense.
”I just loved the way he prepared,” Arians said, ”and I watched him grow as a player.”
When Arians came to Arizona in 2013, he brought Stanton with him. The quarterback thought he would have a chance to start, but accepted the backup role, yet again, when the Cardinals traded for Palmer.
Although his statistics in his starts this year weren’t flashy, Stanton made plays when they were most needed, and committed no turnovers.
Arians said the most impressive performance came in the home win over the 49ers.
”Every guy in that room knows that he’ll be ultimately prepared and more than capable of beating everybody that we play,” the coach said. ”The Giants game he was fairly good, but the Frisco game he was outstanding. That win right there cemented him in our locker room.”
When Palmer went down early in the fourth quarter last Sunday against St. Louis, the Cardinals trailed 14-10.
Stanton came in, completed a pair of passes, ran for 4 yards, then heaved a 48-yard pass to rookie John Brown, whose diving grab in the end zone put Arizona ahead. The defense added two touchdowns and Arizona won going away 31-14.
Of Brown’s five touchdown catches, three have come from Stanton.
Brown said he’d never heard of Stanton until he joined the Cardinals. He’s learned a lot about him since.
”I learned that he’s a winner,” Brown said. ”He’s going to stand up big in big-time situations. `’
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