Even on a bad day Carson Palmer can deliver a spectacular outcome. Take Dec. 22, 2013, the last time the Seahawks stared across the line of scrimmage at the Arizona quarterback. Kam Chancellor intercepted him in the end zone to blunt the Cardinals’ opening drive. Malcolm Smith picked him off in the second quarter on a tipped pass. And Richard Sherman got him twice, at Seattle’s 21-yard line in the first half and then in the end zone for a third-quarter touchback.
But Palmer strolled out of CenturyLink Field a winner by throwing one of the most improbable touchdowns in Seahawks history.
With Seattle leading 10-9 and 2:13 left, Palmer threw to a receiver who hadn’t made a catch in the previous 57 minutes. But Michael Floyd made a juggling grab, burning CB Byron Maxwell, and raced 31 yards to give Arizona a 17-10 win that snapped Seattle’s 14-game home winning streak and turned Russell Wilson into a loser at the Clink for the first time in his career.
Palmer became the first quarterback in 60 years to toss a game-winning TD in the last three minutes of the fourth quarter after hurling four or more interceptions without a TD prior to that. The name of Palmer’s predecessor probably escapes memory.
On Nov. 1, 1953, Arnie Galiffa threw four interceptions against the Chicago Cardinals at Comiskey Park, and then hurled a 75-yard touchdown pass to Kyle Rote with 2:50 to play to give the New York Giants a 23-20 victory. That turned out to be the only TD pass of Galiffa’s two-year pro career, but it made Galiffa unique in NFL annals until Palmer picked successfully on Maxwell.
The lesson for the Seahawks, who will see Palmer Sunday night at he Clink: The guy can beat you even when he tosses four interceptions. Only two other quarterbacks in the past 40 years — John Elway of Denver (Dec. 15, 1984) and Erik Kramer of San Diego (Oct. 17, 1999) — beat Seattle on a four-INT day.
MIA most of last year with an ACL tear, Palmer isn’t likely to duplicate his four-pick day Sunday night. He’s thrown only six and arrives at the Clink in the middle of his best pro season: 20 touchdown passes, a 64.4 completion percentage, and a 110.2 passer rating. Palmer leads the NFL in touchdown percentage (7.7), yards per attempt (9.2) and yards per completion (14.2), all career highs.
Look at how Palmer ranks among NFC quarterbacks in passer rating on the road, in the second half, in the fourth quarter and in the red zone:
|Carson Palmer||Cardinals||115.8||Had 154.2 rating at Detroit Oct. 11|
|Aaron Rodgers||Packers||101.4||8 TDs, 1 INT, 63.2 completion pct.|
|Jameis Winston||Buccaneers||96.4||5 TDs, 1 INT, 8.1 yards/attempt|
|Matt Ryan||Falcons||93.3||7 TDs, 2 INTs road; 5 TDs, 5 INTs home|
|Carson Palmer||Cardinals||129.6||12 TDs, 2 INT, 10.2 yards/attempt|
|Aaron Rodgers||Packers||114.2||10 TDs, 1 INT, 64.1 complection pct.|
|Matt Ryan||Falcons||100.2||7 TDs, 70.1 completion percentage|
|Eli Manning||Giants||98.8||9 TDs, 2 INTs, 62.8 completion pct.|
|Carson Palmer||Cardinals||127.0||7 TDs, 1 INT, 10.53 yards/attempt|
|Aaron Rodgers||Packers||117.4||5 TDs, 1 INT, 69.4 completion pct.|
|Eli Manning||Giants||103.5||6 TDs, 1 INT, 62.5 completion pct.|
|Matt Ryan||Falcons||101.5||4 TDs, 2 INTs, 72.7 completion pct.|
|Matt Stafford||Lions||114.0||10 TDs, 0 INTs, 61.2 completion pct.|
|Kirk Cousins||Redskins||111.4||10 TDs, 0 INTs, 64.4 completion pct.|
|Drew Brees||Saints||108.2||11 TDs, 1 INT, 74.2 completion pct.|
|Carson Palmer||Cardinals||104.2||16 TDs, 0 INT, 54.7 complection pct.|
Pete Carroll, who coached Palmer to a Heisman Trophy at USC in 2002, couldn’t be more impressed – or wary.
“Carson is playing phenomenal football,” Carroll gushed this week. “He looks as good as he’s ever looked. He’s in great command of the offense. He can throw every throw. They (the Cardinals) really have a nice setup for him with the receivers that they have. The running backs can catch the football. They come downhill with the running game to make you defend it. And then they fire the thing all over the field.
“They’re as aggressive downfield as anybody we play, with players that can make things happen. Carson has just been great. This is best I’ve ever seen him in all the years he’s been out there playing. And I think he fits with Bruce Arians and the offense They’re making the most of their personnel.”
Carroll didn’t exaggerate about Carson’s bent for going downfield. Among NFC starters, only Rodgers and Brees, with 22 each, have more big passing plays (25-plus yards) than Palmer, who has 19. Four of Palmer’s have resulted in touchdowns, including a 60-yarder to Floyd vs. Cleveland and a 55-yarder to David Johnson vs. New Orleans.
The Seahawks allowed 14 big pass plays in their first eight games after allowing 14 all of last season. Plus, as they discovered two years ago, even intercepting Palmer multiple times won’t necessarily get it done.