GLENDALE, Ariz. — Maybe this practice stuff is overrated.
Carson Palmer was not allowed to throw a pass once in workouts last week, then turned in a near-perfect performance.
The Arizona quarterback completed 27 of 32 passes, the second-best completion percentage in Cardinals history, in a 30-10 victory over the St. Louis Rams on Sunday.
“(Trainer) Tom Reed and his staff, they are the best in the business,” Palmer said. “He had a plan from Monday on, and he stuck to it. I had 100 percent faith and trust in him that he knew what he was doing and that he and his staff would have me ready to play.”
Boy, did they ever.
Palmer’s 84.4 percent completion rate is second only in franchise history to Kurt Warner’s NFL record 24 of 26 (92.3) percent. The Rams’ vaunted pass rush sacked him just once.
Larry Fitzgerald caught 12 passes for 96 yards and a touchdown.
The Cardinals (8-5) also scored twice on defense, when Karlos Dansby returned an interception 23 yards for a score and John Abraham tackled Kellen Clemens for a safety.
“Obviously they’re a much better team than they were last year,” Rams linebacker Jo-Lonn Dunbar said. “They have a really good coach. They bought into the system, and they’re playing effectively.”
Here are five things learned from Arizona’s dominant victory:
RAMS NEED TO RUN
When the Rams can’t move the ball on the ground, they are in trouble.
When quarterback Sam Bradford went down with a season-ending knee injury, St. Louis shifted to a run-oriented offense.
But take away Tavon Austin’s 56-yard run, which set up St. Louis’ lone touchdown, and the Rams managed just 44 yards in 18 carries. Zac Stacy had just 25 yards in 14 tries.
The Cardinals have one of the best run defenses in the league, and once the Rams’ ground game was stifled, the team could zero in on Clemens.
“Once you shut down the run against a team like St. Louis that is built on running the football, the frenzy can feed,” Arizona coach Bruce Arians said.
ABRAHAM’S BIG DAY
Abraham had three sacks, giving him 11 for the season.
The 14-year NFL veteran has 133 sacks, moving him past Lawrence Taylor and Leslie O’Neal to ninth on the career list.
“Now I am trying to walk down (Michael) Strahan at five. He has 141.5,” Abraham said. “It’s good to get a personal goal, but it’s even better to get a win, and how we played today on both sides of the ball and special teams showed what kind of team we can be. That’s what impressed me the most.”
HONEY BADGER HURT
Rookie Tyrann Mathieu’s sensational season may have come to an end with a left knee injury that Arians says appeared to be a torn ACL.
Mathieu was hurt when he returned the free kick following Arizona’s safety in the third quarter. He was buried in a pile of tacklers, then got up and jogged toward the sideline.
But his knee buckled and he collapsed to the ground. Getting consolation from teammates, he sat with his helmet off and waited for the cart to be brought, then road it off the field.
Arians said he thought Mathieu’s play this far had made him “a lock” to be NFL defensive rookie of the year.
“I think no one else has played as much as he’s played, and all the positions he’s played,” Arians said.
The coach said he wished the Rams had kicked the ball to Peterson.
FITGERALD WAS PROLIFIC
Fitzgerald hadn’t caught this many passes in a game since he matched his career best with 13 against Seattle on Oct. 18, 2009.
Arians said there was no special plan to throw to Fitgerald.
“We throw it where they will let us throw it,” Arians said. “Carson was spot on it.”
Fitzgerald has 10 touchdown catches this season, becoming the ninth player in NFL history with five seasons of double-digit TD receptions.
RAMS ARE DONE
With the loss, St. Louis officially is out of playoff contention and almost certainly is headed for a last place in the NFC West.
It’s a season that never really had a chance after Bradford was hurt.
“I think the thing we want to see now is finish the season strong,” Clemens said. “We want to see improvement. We’ll get back to work. We’re eliminated, but we still have to play them.”