TEMPE, Ariz. – Carson Palmer has piled up some impressive numbers in his 11-year NFL career.
Wins, though, have been hard to come by.
Although he won't say so, this has the makings of a season of redemption for the 2002 Heisman Trophy winner and No. 1 overall draft pick by Cincinnati in 2003.
After a rocky start with the Arizona Cardinals, Palmer is coming off two strong performances, throwing for 419 yards in a win at Jacksonville, then completing 26 of 37 for 314 yards and two touchdowns in last Sunday's 40-11 thrashing of Indianapolis.
A month shy of his 34th birthday, Palmer finds himself on a winning team 11 games into a season. The Cardinals (7-4) have won four straight heading into Sunday's game at Philadelphia. This for a quarterback who has had a winning record only two times in his pro career.
Coach Bruce Arians said he thinks "it means the world" to Palmer to be playing for a winner.
"He can answer it better than I, but I know he comes to work with a smile on his face, and he comes in real early and leaves real late," Arians said.
Palmer tends to avoid big-picture questions about his career.
"I come in and look at last week's game film and look at the mistakes and look at the good things that happened and get ready for the next one, because you can't look at the past," he said. "You can't worry about anything other than what's going on and what's right in front of you."
When the Cardinals hired Arians to replace the fired Ken Whisenhunt last offseason, they were in dire need of a quarterback. Oakland was ready to rebuild and Palmer was not part of that plan.
Arizona acquired him for a mere sixth-round draft pick, then signed him to a three-year, $16 million contract with $10 million guaranteed.
Arians, 61, said before the season that the pairing with Palmer was "like a cowboy movie with two old guys. This is our last rodeo in the desert."
As an assistant coach, then as interim head coach last year for Indianapolis, Arians worked with the likes of Peyton Manning, Ben Roethlisberger and Andrew Luck. Palmer fit the profile of the big, classic drop-back passer that Arians likes.
But he found his new coach's offense to be the most complicated he's dealt with in his career. The early results weren't promising.
Through seven games, Palmer had eight touchdown passes and 13 interceptions as Arizona sputtered to a 3-4 start. In the current four-game winning streak, he's thrown for eight touchdowns with two interceptions.
"To go through what he's been through the last couple of years, it's just good to see a guy out there still playing at a high level," offensive coordinator Harold Goodwin said. "It's just great to see him clicking with our offense right now."
Coming into this season, Palmer was 54-68 as a starter in an NFL career that got off to a promising start.
A standout at USC, Palmer didn't play at all as a rookie, but in his second NFL season, he led the Bengals to an 11-5 regular-season record.
Then on his second snap in a playoff game, Palmer went down with a severe knee injury. He came back the following season to make the Pro Bowl and was MVP of that game, but his mobility has never been the same.
After Cincinnati went 4-12 in 2010, Palmer asked to be traded and refused to report to training camp. Three months later, the Bengals sent him to Oakland for a first- and second-round draft pick.
Last season, he threw for more than 4,000 yards for the third time in his career, but the Raiders went 4-12. So it was off to a fresh start in Arizona.
After a learning period that was much longer than Arians wanted, Palmer has a grasp of the offense. Last Sunday, he became the first player in Cardinals history with a completion percentage of at least 70 percent, 300 or more yards passing and a quarterback rating of at least 110 in consecutive games.
Palmer, who has passed the 30,000-yard mark in career passing, says he's nowhere near as comfortable with Arians' system as he knows he and his teammates can be.
"We know where we need to get to make a run at the end of the year and we still have a lot of work to do," he said, "and no way have we figured this offense out completely or mastered this offense. We still have a lot of work to do."
Through the bad times and good, Palmer's temperament hasn't changed.
"He's from Cali. You know how California guys are," seven-time Pro Bowl wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald said. "Nothing really ruffles their feathers. They're very calm guys and it's great to have that even-keeled disposition in the huddle. He kind of makes everybody like that when you talk to him and you're around them."
Palmer's success has coincided with the growth of a handsome mustache.
"I hope he keeps it for the rest of the season," Fitzgerald said. "It's been working for us."
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