INDIANAPOLIS — Carson Palmer played the first three quarters in Indianapolis out of sync. Then, suddenly in the fourth quarter, he reverted to vintage form.
Now the Cardinals need their star quarterback to stay in rhythm and keep producing so they can start building momentum after Sunday’s 16-13 overtime victory at Indianapolis.
"We still need to execute better. We had a lot of silly penalties here or there that put us in some tough situations," Palmer said. "But we’re a resilient group, there’s no doubt about that."
They have no choice.
After losing running back David Johnson last week with a dislocated left wrist that required surgery and playing the Colts without the left side of their offensive line — tackle D.J. Humphries and guard Mike Iupati — or receiver John Brown, Palmer’s 37-year-old shoulders are being asked to carry more of the burden.
Things haven’t gone smoothly the first two games.
Palmer was sacked four times and threw another interception against the Colts (0-2) while going 19 of 36 with 332 yards and a touchdown. It was certainly better than last week and good enough to help the Cardinals (1-1) avoid their first 0-2 start since 2005.
But it’s not yet good enough for coach Bruce Arians .
"Quarterback has to play better, simple," he said when asked about the offensive struggles. "And we have to block a heck of a lot better."
Palmer chose not to respond to the critique though it’s a good bet the questions will continue all week.
The truth is that without Palmer, the Cardinals probably might still be winless.
His one-two big-play punch finally got the Cardinals into the end zone midway through the fourth quarter. He followed that drive by twice getting the Cardinals into field goal position. Phil Dawson made the first kick, a 40-yarder, to tie the score at 13 with 2:09 to play before missing a 42-yarder wide right as time expired.
When new Colts quarterback Jacoby Brissett was picked off by Tyrann Mathieu on the first play from scrimmage in overtime, Dawson took advantage of his second chance by making a 30-yarder to give the Cardinals a sense of relief.
"I’ve played long enough to know wins — you’ve got to enjoy," Palmer said. "Doesn’t matter how you get it done, but we got it done."
Here are some other things we learned Sunday:
Both teams have already been decimated by injuries this season.
It doesn’t appear any new ones will be added this week after Arians and Colts coach Chuck Pagano both said their teams were relatively injury-free.
Pagano changed quarterbacks to energize his team. That part worked.
Brissett led the Colts to 10 points on their first two series, converted his first three third-down chances after Indy and the Colts never trailed until the final play. He finished 20 of 37 with 216 yards and ran six times for 22 yards. But this game will be remembered for the one crucial mistake, the interception.
"It was just a bad play all the way around," he said. "I take credit for that and I just have to know, which I do know, make a better decision."
With David Johnson out, Chris Johnson was back and it didn’t take him long to get up to speed.
Though he didn’t start, Chris Johnson carried 11 times for 44 yards — both team highs — against an opponent he knew well from his days in Tennessee. The Cardinals ran 25 times for 83 yards.
"It was halftime and the plays that he likes were kind of clicking, so we went with him," Arians said.
Brissett’s favourite target was tight end Jack Doyle, who had eight catches for 79 yards.
Maybe that much should have been expected, given the fact that Brissett has only been studying the playbook for two weeks. But only three wide receivers caught passes for the Colts and they had a combined nine catches for 98 yards, barely more than Doyle.