JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — Carson Palmer completed six passes to six receivers on the Arizona Cardinals’ opening drive that led to a touchdown. Three straight completions went for at least 20 yards on another drive. A simple slant turned into a 91-yard, catch-and-run touchdown.
It was like that all game. Best of all, the nine players who caught Palmer’s passes Sunday all played for his team.
For a team plagued by turnovers this year, including 15 interceptions, Palmer delivered a beauty Sunday in a 27-14 victory over the Jacksonville Jaguars. He was 30 of 42 for 419 yards and two touchdowns, and he did not throw an interception for the first time this year.
“Carson played by far his best game,” Arizona coach Bruce Arians said.
His one big mistake? Throwing a ball up for grabs late in the third quarter that linebacker Russell Allen easily grabbed for an interception. Just his luck, Arians had called a timeout and no one saw the official running from the sideline to stop the play.
The Cardinals (6-4) couldn’t afford to lose this game as they try to stay in the playoff mix. Palmer’s flawless play, and a defense that stiffened after surrendering two quick touchdowns, made sure they didn’t.
“We have talked about how the playoffs have already started. You lose, you’re out,” Arians said. “We’re a game behind teams, so we have to keep winning. We have to take a playoff attitude every week, that this game is a playoff game and we have to win to catch up. The guys have done it.”
Arizona won its third straight, and it won twice in Florida in the same season for the first time in franchise history. The Cardinals had a 13-10 win over Tampa Bay in late September. This one was easier, thanks to the strong play of Palmer, a career game for Michael Floyd and a defense that allowed only 57 yards in the second half.
Floyd, listed as questionable because of a shoulder injury, had six catches for a career-best 193 yards, including a 91-yard score that made the Jaguars’ secondary look silly. On third-and-10 from the 9, Floyd beat Will Blackmon on a slant. He shook off tackles by Allen and safety Winston Guy. When Blackmon caught up to him, the cornerback’s hands slid off his shoulder pads, he rolled into cornerback Alan Ball, and Floyd was on his way.
“The safety bit down on the play-action and Carson made a heck of a throw,” Floyd said. “I made a couple of guys miss and we scored a touchdown. You give me a little bit of a space and I just try to break tackles. With my big frame, I should be able to make catches that not all guys can.”
The Jaguars (1-9) at least scored a touchdown at home for the first time this year.
On fourth-and-2 from the 38 on their opening drive, Chad Henne found tight end Danny Noble all alone behind the defense for an easy catch, and he rumbled 50 yards to the end zone with his first NFL reception.
“There were many situations where I felt like we were bold, and I told our team that we need to take that personality on,” Jaguars coach Gus Bradley said.
Jacksonville scored another touchdown after a 59-yard kickoff return by Jordan Todman and a pair of Arizona mistakes — none bigger than Yeremiah Bell getting called for unsportsmanlike conduct after Henne’s pass on third-and-goal from the 3 was incomplete. Maurice Jones-Drew scored from the 1 for a 14-7 lead.
But that was it for the Jaguars, who returned to their inept ways one week after getting their first win at Tennessee.
Palmer was rarely under pressure and moved the ball at will, with six passes that went for at least 20 yards. His other TD was a 14-yard strike to Larry Fitzgerald that tied the game at 7 in the first quarter.
“I had a really nice time in the pocket. I had a clean pocket for the most part and was able to step into a lot of throws,” Palmer said. “Guys did a nice job of finding the voids in their zone. I thought guys came with the right attitude. It wasn’t a letdown game for us. It was a must-win, and we did what it took.”
Rashard Mendenhall scored on a 5-yard run late in the second quarter to tie the game at 14. Otherwise, the running game didn’t exist for either team. The Cardinals came into the game with the third-ranked run defense. It held the Jaguars to 32 yards. The Cardinals had 416 yards, only 14 on the ground.
Jones-Drew finished with 23 yards on 14 carries.
“They’re a great defense. We knew that going in,” Jones-Drew said. “They load the box and wanted to make sure that we couldn’t run the ball.”
Henne rarely threw downfield, settling for bubble screens that didn’t get the Jaguars very far. When he finally went vertical, he threw a pair of interceptions late in the game that sealed it for Arizona. Henne was 27 of 42 for 255 yards.
Palmer was sacked three times, but for the most part, he had ample time to show. The Jaguars’ best player was punter Bryan Anger, who constantly pinned the Cardinals deep in a spot they couldn’t afford any mistakes. They didn’t make any.
After spotting Jacksonville two scores, the defense took it from there. The Jaguars only once got beyond the Cardinals’ 40-yard line the rest of the way, and that was late in the game when it was too late.
“Defensively, we came out in the second half like we have all year and shut them down,” Arians said.