(SportsNetwork.com) - There's adversity and then there is piling on.
The Arizona Cardinals have been football's best team over their first nine games of the season despite quite a few hurdles. Bruce Arians' club lost star linebacker Daryl Washington to a yearlong suspension before things even got underway and barely flinched when impact defensive linemen Darnell Dockett and John Abraham went down with season-ending injuries.
The Cards even persevered when starting quarterback Carson Palmer was sidelined with a nerve issue in his throwing shoulder, winning two of three under veteran backup Drew Stanton.
When Palmer's pesky nerve "woke up," according to muscle specialist Greg Roskopf, Arizona finally had the feel of a team that overcame the worst of its curve balls and one on its way to being a legitimate contender to be the first ever to play in a Super Bowl on its home field, University of Phoenix Stadium.
That scenario may have evaporated on that very field Sunday, however, as the 34-year-old Palmer, who signed a big-money extension just two days prior, went down with a season-ending ACL injury.
"It's hard," Arians admitted Monday. "I knew walking out on the field what I was going to find. You're pulling for a guy because he's put so much into it, to get into the playoffs and win some games and maybe go all the way, because you know what it means to him at this point of his career."
The Cardinals didn't flinch without their leader, rallying to beat the Rams 31-14 thanks to three fourth-quarter touchdowns, including two from the defense.
Stanton threw a touchdown to rookie wide receiver John Brown to give the Cardinals the lead before the D sealed it with a pick-six by Patrick Peterson and a fumble recovery returned for a score by fellow cornerback Antonio Cromartie.
The triumph improved Arizona's record to 8-1, its best start since the team called Chicago home in 1948, and the first time the Cardinals have owned the best record in the NFL after nine games since 1966 when St. Louis was the franchise's base.
"It's obviously not ideal and not something anybody wants to go through, especially with all the positive and the good going on," Palmer said on Monday.
Palmer was injured trying to climb the pocket as Rams safety Mark Barron blew by, barely grabbing the jersey of the QB as he passed. Palmer heard a pop and crumbled to the turf.
"It's not easy," Palmer said. "Not going to lie, I cried like a baby last night. I'm not an emotional guy. I don't cry. The last time I cried like that was when I lost my friend and (Bengals) teammate Chris Henry in 2009."
Palmer does understand what it takes to come back from this. He tore his left ACL during a January 2006 playoff loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers while with the Cincinnati Bengals.
"A bump in the road for me, but I've been through this before and I've had something worse actually before. I'm going to attack this thing. I'm going to grind and be back and hopefully be back here and be ready to roll by OTA time."
Next year's OTAs isn't what this team is about, though, and Arians tried to put on the best face possible, pointing to Stanton's prior success this season.
"As far as our football team, everybody in the locker room including myself has all the confidence in Drew," Arians said. "You all should too by now."
Perhaps we should and it's certainly becoming dangerous to doubt Arians and his ability to roll with the punches.
Reality, though, says Stanton is an eight-year journeyman with four NFL stops and seven actual starts. And that doesn't sound like the resume of a Super Bowl quarterback.
"This team is special and we'll miss (Palmer) on the field, but his leadership will still be there," the coach said.
Arians was even more definitive when speaking to The MMQB.
"We can win the Super Bowl with Drew Stanton," he claimed. "There is no doubt in my mind."