GLENDALE, ARIZ. – Ten months of doing the same thing over and over again as he rehabbed his left knee from reconstructive knee surgery became monotonous. So quarterback Carson Palmer went back and watched every throw he made during his year and a half and 22 starts with the Arizona Cardinals.
The 13-year veteran, who turns 36 in a few weeks, knew he’d have some catching up to do if he planned to resume his career at a high level this season.
“The greatest mental challenge is just the everyday grind,” Palmer said before the Cardinals beat the Vikings 23-20 Thursday night. “It’s a 10-month recovery and 10 months of doing the same things over and over again.
“The biggest physical hurdle was probably that first live action, that first two or three weeks of live stuff on the field with defensive linemen or linebackers and pressures and all the different things coming at you and trusting it and trusting that physically you’ll hold up.”
Thirteen games in, Palmer is having the most productive season of his career. The words “MVP candidate” are constantly uttered by coach Bruce Arians and teammates like future Hall of Famer Larry Fitzgerald Jr., and Palmer and Adrian Peterson are two of the NFL’s biggest front-runners for Comeback Player of the Year.
Of course, Palmer is rebounding from major knee surgery for the second time in his career and Peterson from a 15-game NFL suspension.
“It was like [Palmer] never missed a beat,” Arians said.
As the NFC West-leading Cardinals vie to host their first playoff game since 2010, Palmer is riding an 11-2 record and seven-game winning streak.
Thursday, he completed 25 of 35 passes for 310 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions. The two touchdowns gave him 31 on the season, tying New England’s Tom Brady for first in the NFL, breaking Kurt Warner’s team record and putting him one from tying his career high set his second season in 2005.
He leads the league with 4,003 passing yards, has single-season franchise records of nine 300-yard passing games and six games of three or more touchdown passes.
“Every play that doesn’t score, that doesn’t go for four-plus yards in the run game, we’re harped on [by Arians],” said Palmer, 24-4 in his past 28 Cardinals starts and 18th all-time with 39,368 passing yards. “We’re held to a very high standard and coached extremely hard, and we’re still shooting for a perfect game, we’re still shooting for one where we walk out and go, ‘Man, I wish this didn’t happen,’ or, ‘I wish I would have done that,’ and that hasn’t happened yet.
“Until that happens, I don’t think we’ll be satisfied.”
Fitzgerald, one of three standout Cardinals wide receivers that Palmer gets to target, said his quarterback “makes everything go for us. Everybody’s having success because of what he’s capable of doing. He knows his personnel. He really understands defenses. That’s what really makes him so potent. He can really dissect what defenses are trying to do, where they’re blitzing, where their weaknesses are and who we want to attack, and then he has the skill guys that can make the plays.”
Vikings coach Mike Zimmer, in Cincinnati with Palmer, has never seen Palmer play this well. “He’s throwing the heck out of the ball,” Zimmer said.
Still, Palmer could be going head-to-head with Peterson for Comeback Player of the Year when all’s said and done. Palmer called Peterson, who leads the NFL with 1,251 rushing yards, “as good a player as there is in the game and just one of those guys you marvel at. He gets better and better and better and better.”
Palmer’s not worrying about Comeback Player of the Year. He has never won a playoff game and has played in only two.
“We know where we sit, we know how important each game is,” Palmer said. “You can’t help notice it and know it and hear about it. [Arians] said, ‘This is the playoffs right now.’ You’ve got to win games.”