It’s far too early for the Arizona Cardinals or the Indianapolis Colts to start thinking in “must-win” terms when the two clubs collide this Sunday at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis.
Come Monday, however, one of those teams is going to be staring at a daunting NFL statistic that they are not going to like at all.
Teams that begin a season 0-2 have only a 12 percent chance of making the playoffs.
For the Colts, who got embarrassed in their season opener by the Rams 46-9, it doesn’t help that franchise quarterback Andrew Luck (shoulder) does not appear ready to return anytime soon.
Making it worse, coach Chuck Pagano told reporters he wasn’t sure which of his two healthy quarterbacks would start, Scott Tolzien or recently acquired Jacoby Brissett, whom the Colts got in a trade a week ago from the New England Patriots.
“Our focus is on preparation and getting better as a football team and making the correction from last week and focus on fundamentals, technique and taking care of the football. You can’t have four takeaways, give the ball up four times, four turnovers. You can’t have it on offense.
“You can’t go 0 for 10 on third down. We’ve looked and dissected how it happened and now we’re going to go out and work on getting those things corrected so that we can play better and give ourselves a chance, as a football team, to play better team football.”
That’s what Cardinals coach Bruce Arians, who served as a successful interim head coach for the Colts in 2012 while Pagano was battling leukemia, wants to see out of his Arizona team, which blew a 17-9 lead late in the fourth quarter at Detroit and fell to the Lions 35-23. The Cardinals allowed 26 straight points to fall behind 35-17.
Worse, they lost superstar running back David Johnson for at least 2-to-3 months with a dislocated left wrist. Johnson, the NFL’s touchdown leader a year ago with 20 and the league’s leading player in yards from scrimmage, represented nearly 40 percent of the Cardinals’ offense.
Now his duties, at least initially, will be spread around and given to three different running backs — Kerwynn Williams, a former seventh-round draft pick by the Colts, Andre Ellington and veteran Chris Johnson.
Arians insists his offense won’t change “one iota,” but according to Cardinals quarterback Carson Palmer, “It changes drastically.”
“You lose who I think is one of the best football players in this league, things are obviously going to change,” Palmer said.
For the Cardinals to avoid their first 0-2 start in the Arians’ era, they will need Palmer, who turns 38 in December, to revert back to his MVP-worthy ways of 2015 when he set multiple career and franchise passing records. He was completely off his game last week, getting intercepted three times, including one for a touchdown, and missing the mark on several wide-open throws to receivers.
If there’s any good news there, it’s that Palmer has had a way of bouncing back well from adversity the very next week, something Arizona will hope continues against a battered and banged up Colts’ team. Arians has worked with many skilled quarterbacks during his NFL tenure, from Peyton Manning and Ben Roethlisberger to Luck and Palmer.
Asked which of all of them was the most resilient and he said it isn’t even close. It’s Palmer, he said.
“Oh, No. 1 by far,” he said Wednesday. “I’ve never been around one, during games, and that’s what surprised me about the other day, because he has been so resilient. He had a great practice today, and he can put things behind him and move forward as good as anybody I’ve ever been around.”
Palmer said he’s been itching to get back under center since the moment the Cardinals lost in Week 1.
“I’ll be ready to roll on Sunday,” he said. “It can’t be here fast enough.”
Colts wide receiver T.Y. Hilton reminded Arizona reporters on a conference call that Indianapolis feels the same way after they got roughed up by a Rams team that wasn’t expected to challenge for anything this season other than mediocrity.
“We’re just in a bounce-back mentality,” he said. “We did some good things out there, but we really didn’t play well. We didn’t play Colts football, and we look forward to getting back to it this week.”
Hilton will have to do his part while being shadowed by Cardinals All-Pro cornerback Patrick Peterson, who very seldom allows the opposing team’s No. 1 receiver to make very many plays.
“He’s great, man. He’s really, really good in press,” Hilton said. “Overall, he’s a hell of a player, a Pro Bowler. He gets paid with the highest, and it’s going to be me and him all day; and I look forward to it.”