The Jaguars were on the other side of the ball, so don’t get too carried away with the Cardinals’ 27-14 victory in Jacksonville on Sunday. Eight other NFL teams have left the field with the Jaguars this season feeling pretty good about themselves after a double-digit victory.
The Cardinals couldn’t run the ball (14 rushing yards) on the league’s worst statistical run defense, and Arizona’s defense allowed the first two TDs that Jacksonville has scored at home this season.
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With all of that as backdrop, it is still important to note that the Cardinals offense picked up the defense on Sunday, not vice versa, and it came via a passing game that was supposed to have arrived two months ago when the Cardinals began the regular season.
Carson Palmer passed for a season-high 419 yards (21 shy of his career high), completing 30 of 42 passes (71.4 percent) for two TDs and a passer rating of 119. And for the first time this season, he threw zero interceptions.
Wide receiver Michael Floyd shrugged off an AC sprain in his shoulder to post a career high in receiving yardage with six catches for 193 yards and a 91-yard touchdown, the longest in the NFL this season and the Cardinals’ longest pass play since 1988.
Tight end Rob Housler was a force for a second straight week with six catches for 70 yards. And despite those efforts from Floyd and Housler, the Cards still got the ball to receiver Larry Fitzgerald for six catches and 61 yards.
“I thought our offense set the tempo for this game,” coach Bruce Arians said. “We knew they were stacking the box. We had a couple big plays that we’ve been looking for. Those are the plays that have been missing for us.”
Time will tell if Palmer and the passing game have found a groove, and the Cards will need far more from their run game against the better competition that awaits in the coming weeks, but the past three weeks have backed the notion that Palmer is hitting his stride with the help of much better protection from the offensive line. In wins over Atlanta, Houston and Jacksonville, Palmer has posted his top three passer ratings since the season opener.
“Obviously it helped with Michael on the long run and getting some big plays down the field that we haven’t had in the past. We did a good job up front and had some nice time in the pocket. I had a really clean pocket for the most part, stepped into a lot of throws,” Palmer said. I thought we executed very well in the second half and guys made some big plays. It was a must win and we got the job done.”
Even with a hiccup in the first quarter, the Cardinals defense still settled in to hold the Jaguars to 274 yards overall and just 32 on the ground. If Palmer and the offense can put together outings like they have the past three weeks, this could very well be a playoff team when the season ends.
Speaking of the playoffs, the Cardinals’ win helped them hold onto the No. 7 spot in NFC, where Chicago (6-4) and Philadelphia (6-5) won while Detroit (6-4), Green Bay (5-5) and San Francisco (6-4) lost. Carolina (6-3) plays Monday night.
With a home game Sunday against Arians’ former team, the Colts, followed by a road game in Philadelphia, a home game against the Sam Bradford-less Rams and a road game in Tennessee, this is where the Cardinals must make hay if they hope to grab one of those wild card spots.
“We’re closer as a defense, closer as an offense and just believing in the system,” defensive tackle Darnell Dockett said. “Every day we’re grinding. Everything is coming together, and we’re just trying to hold everybody accountable and most of all have fun with the whole thing.”