One thing was clear in the Arizona Cardinals' season opener, Carson Palmer has more than Larry Fitzgerald as a reliable target.
Sure, Fitzgerald had eight catches for 80 yards and two touchdowns, but Andre Roberts and Michael Floyd had big games, too, although it was for naught in a 27-24 loss to St. Louis.
Roberts caught nine passes, matching his career best, for 97 yards, many of them coming on third down and more than a few accompanied by crunching hits from the Rams' defense. Floyd, entering his second season after Arizona drafted him in the first round out of Notre Dame, had a 44-yard grab to set up the Cardinals' first touchdown. He finished with four receptions for 82 yards.
"It's definitely good to see them do it in a regular-season game, being our first time together," Palmer said before Wednesday's practice. "But I'm not surprised whatsoever. I expect more out of those guys. I'll always tell them that. Anytime any one of them is 1-on-1, they have to win."
Palmer, entering his 11th pro season, completed 26 of 40 passes for 327 yards and two scores with an interception. He is the first Arizona quarterback to complete 65 percent of his passes and throw for at least 320 yards since Kurt Warner did it against Seattle on Nov. 15, 2009.
Still, Palmer thought he could have done better, especially since the offense couldn't get anything going late after leading 24-13 in the fourth quarter.
"There are a handful of things that happen each week," he said. "I spent a lot of the last two days looking at those things figuring out what I need to improve on, came up with a couple of drills with our QB coach (Freddie Kitchens) for today."
New Arizona coach Bruce Arians spent two decades as a pass-loving assistant coach before serving as interim head coach in Indianapolis while Chuck Pagano was fighting leukemia last season. To keep offenses from double-teaming Fitzgerald so often, he has all three receivers prepared to line up in any of the receiving spots on any given play.
"I don't want anybody knowing who's where and where we put this guy and this guy and this guy," Arians said. "If there's a weakness in the secondary, we'd like to be in the formation to find it."
Fitzgerald had talked about the challenges of learning all three receiver positions after spending his entire career essentially playing just one, and the results were good in the opener. It was his first two-touchdown performance in 24 games. Fitzgerald had only four TD catches all of last season.
But the biggest game among Arizona's receiving trio belonged to Roberts, who repeatedly was the third-down target of Palmer. Had Arizona hung on to win, Arians said it was the kind of performance that would earn a game ball.
Roberts is something of a protegee as well as a good friend of Fitzgerald. He even accompanied Fitzgerald on several of the six-time Pro Bowl receiver's international jaunts in the offseason, including a trek to Antarctica. Fitzgerald joked that he didn't take Roberts with him.
"He always pays his own way," Fitzgerald said.
Roberts admires Fitzgerald's preparation.
"He acts like he's fighting to make the team every year," Roberts said.
Floyd, at 6-foot-2, simply out-jumped and outmuscled the defender on his big catch.
"He's bigger than every corner in the league," Palmer said. "He's more physical. He probably has more vertical jump than most guys. You saw him do that at Notre Dame for years, so it's pretty natural for him to go up and catch those 50-50 balls."
Floyd had a chance at a similar play later in the game but couldn't come up with it. Palmer said Floyd apparently lost the ball in the lights, but the receiver said he would not use that as an excuse.
"I told him he has to make that catch 10 out of 10 times," Palmer said.
Floyd said he knows his athletic ability and size are his hold cards when he goes up for a catch.
"You've got to use what God gave you," he said, "so whatever you do to use your body and shift to get that job done, you do."
Arizona was without another receiver expected to have a big impact, tight end Rob Housler. Housler hasn't practiced for two weeks because of a high ankle sprain. There's a good chance he won't be able to play when the Cardinals face Detroit in their home opener on Sunday.
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