Injured Carson Palmer was on precipice of career resurgence

TEMPE, Ariz. -- Carson Palmer said he doesn't cry.

He doesn't show emotion, not even on the field, where a fist pump has been as rare as an interception this season. But Sunday night, after he left the game with a torn ACL, Palmer sobbed.

"I'm not going to lie, I cried like a baby last night, and I'm not an emotional guy," Palmer said Monday, sitting in front of the Cardinals' media, upright and on an angle because of this left knee's immobility. "I don't cry.

"The last time I cried like that was when I lost my friend and teammate Chris Henry back in '09."

Palmer's tears are telling. They showed how much he believed in himself. And how much he cared.

He was seven games away -- possibly 11, if you're really optimistic -- from finishing a career resurgence that would've gone down in NFL history. The man who had underachieved in the playoffs, held his ground in Cincinnati, survived life in Oakland and could still throw for 4,000 yards regardless of which team he was on, finally had a chance to re-establish himself.

For the first time in his career, the Super Bowl became a realistic possibility.

"That's probably the toughest [thing] is I'm having more fun than I've ever had in my entire career," Palmer said. "I'm on the best team I've ever been on, a phenomenal group of guys from the top down.

"There's something special about this group, and like I said before, one thing I'll miss most is this opportunity that does not come along often."

He had never started any of his 12 seasons like this one. He looked like an offensive savant in Bruce Arians' scheme, throwing to eight, nine, 10 different receivers per game. He also had thrown three interceptions in six games, compared to the 22 he had last year.

Palmer got it. He was in control. And then all the work he put in over the past 19 months crumbled as he stepped up to avoid a blitz during the fourth quarter against the Rams on Sunday.

"I felt a pop, so I knew that was my last time on the field this year," Palmer said. "It was not easy. It was obviously sad.

"That's not the way you ever want to leave a stadium, but this was a special year to play in front of this group and in front of our fans in our stadium. Nothing says we can't finish this season in our stadium in front of a lot of our fans."

Palmer had started 7-2 twice before but never 8-1 -- even if he was responsible for only six of those wins because of an axillary nerve contusion in his right shoulder that he suffered in Week 1. At its onset, that injury threatened to potentially end his career. But Palmer recovered and began to improve. He thought he weathered the storm.

He's been through a knee injury before after tearing the ACL and MCL in his left knee in 2006. But that was in a playoff game, which the Bengals lost, and Palmer could rehab without the hum of a season in the background.

Palmer said he'll be around every day, but he doesn't have to. He's closing in on 35, just signed a three-year, $50 million extension with a $20.5 million guarantee. No one would blame him for rehabbing on his own.

"I'm going to do everything I can in the quarterback room to help Drew out," he said. "I'm going to do everything I can with the receivers. I've already started figuring out ways of when I can present kind of my coverage stuff and my blitz stuff and how I can help, because you want to help, but you don't want to be in the way."

Buried in those tears Sunday night was the roller coaster Palmer has been riding since he signed his extension Friday. Two days later, his season -- and potentially his career -- was finished.

Palmer hopes to return. And he will likely be on the Cardinals' roster next season because it makes financial sense. At 35, he may get another chance to rekindle the fire he lit this year.

"I don't know what the future holds this time just as far as there is a lot of unknown," Palmer said. "There are millions of unknown questions. I'm going to play football again. I hope it's here. I know that there are a lot of unknowns in the future and this organization, just seeing what I've seen in the last two years, they're going to do what's best for the organization.

"I know it, I understand it and I agree with it. I hope I'm part of that equation and nobody really knows that right now."