TEMPE, Ariz. — Last week, about 10 days before the Arizona Cardinals were scheduled to play their NFC divisional game, the excitement of playing in his first playoff game in seven years started to get to quarterback Carson Palmer.
“He was jumping around like a young fella out there today at practice,” coach Bruce Arians said.
Can you blame Palmer?
Of the eight remaining quarterbacks, he has the fewest playoff appearances — two — despite being the third oldest. If Palmer comes out too hyped up, and begins airmailing passes, who can blame him? Perhaps Bruce Arians’ most important coaching will happen in the hotel and the locker room, trying to keep Palmer from letting the emotions of playing in his third career playoff game — and first in seven years — get in the way of his preparation.
“I’m sure he’s going to be excited,” Arians said. “My job is to not let him get too excited.”
Palmer’s most recent playoff game was a loss to the New York Jets in the 2009 wild-card round while with the Cincinnati Bengals. His first playoff appearance, in 2006, lasted all of two plays. He tore his ACL after being hit on the second play of the Bengals’ first offensive series while completing a 66-yard pass to Chris Henry.
He’s finally back in the postseason, and nothing will keep his excitement contained.
“I like going into games excited,” Palmer said. “Butterflies are a good thing. Nerves are a good thing and excitement is a good thing, so I am not trying to tail anything off.”
Arians actually wants Palmer to feel those nerves before Saturday’s game, but said Palmer’s preparation should keep him from getting overly excited.
“You want guys to feel that,” Arians said. “You don’t want them (to have a) lull, you know what I mean? He’s a pro. His kids will keep him grounded.”
Palmer missed the Cardinals’ wild-card game last season after tearing his ACL in Week 10 against St. Louis. But the 36-year old has consistently deflected the attention from him and onto his teammates while downplaying his personal drought.
“I don’t really think much about the time or the gap in time,” Palmer said. “I am excited about playing. I’m fired up and looking to pick up where we left off to see what areas we can improve on, what areas I can improve on.
“As far as time between the playoff games, that is not an issue.”
After leaving the Bengals, Palmer played two seasons in Oakland before joining Arizona in 2013. He has passed for 4,000 yards with the Raiders (once) and the Cardinals (twice).
Palmer said he always had faith he’d return to the playoffs. He never feared that 2009 would end up being his last postseason game.
“Just knew it would happen,” he said. “I don’t know how. I don’t know when or how, but I just expected it and prepared for it.”
He added: “You can fear a lot of stuff, but at the end of the day, you have to put the work in and go out and execute it when it is time to execute to get back here.”
Palmer used words like “thankful” and “excited” throughout the 13 days Arizona had off between games to describe his mindset. The Cards earned a first-round bye with a 13-3 record and the No. 2 seed in the NFC. A win Saturday would be Palmer’s first in the postseason.
With that comes a certain level of pressure, but Arians said his Pro Bowl quarterback isn’t feeling it. Add in the fact that Arizona is the Super Bowl favorite, according to the ESPN Football Power Index and some sports books in Las Vegas, and the expectations could be overwhelming.
“The pressure is only something you feel if you’re not prepared,” Arians said. “I’m betting he’s going to be really prepared. So I don’t think he’ll feel too much pressure.”