Three little words. For a moment, they made up for seven years of bad luck, lousy timing, and opportunities that fluttered off course like a deep ball in a desert wind. Three little words.
“You’re up, baby.”
That’s what Arizona Cardinals Coach Bruce Arians casually said to quarterback Drew Stanton just two hours before Sunday’s game at the New York Giants. Carson Palmer’s throwing shoulder didn’t feel right, so Stanton got the starting nod — his first appearance in a regular-season NFL game in three years.
As bad as he felt for Palmer, Stanton was elated to finally get another chance, especially after the seven-season, four-team odyssey that got him to this point, with rough breaks his constant companion.
“There was definitely some gratification in being out there,” Stanton said by phone Tuesday, two days after turning in a performance that was more solid than spectacular, but helped the 2-0 Cardinals win, 25-14.
“My whole mind-set was, I just want to win this football game. It doesn’t have to look pretty. It doesn’t have to be amazing stats. I’ve never been one who’s concerned about my stats. My career stats [stink], so why should I start worrying now?”
In a sense, the most remarkable stat on Stanton is he’s still around, having endured setback after disheartening setback.
How could he have known when the Detroit Lions drafted him in the second round out of Michigan State in 2007 that his career would have so many twists and turns?
Setback 1: The turbulence started when he was a rookie. The Lions were already flush with quarterbacks, so they placed him on injured reserve after a minor knee surgery in training camp. The team went 0-16 his second season, and Stanton never sniffed the field.
That set the stage for Detroit to take Matthew Stafford with the No. 1 pick in 2009, meaning the Stanton era was over before it began. Stanton did start three games in 2010, however, after Stafford and backup Shaun Hill suffered injuries.
“That showed me I do belong in this league,” Stanton said. “If you study right, you’re professional and you prepare … and then obviously getting to throw the ball to Calvin Johnson didn’t hurt either.”
Setback 2: In 2012, wanting to improve his chances of getting on the field, Stanton turned down more money from other teams to back up Mark Sanchez with the New York Jets. There was opportunity in the nation’s largest market and, Stanton said, “If you can have success in New York City, everybody’s going to know about it.”
That didn’t last long. A week after Stanton signed, the Jets traded for Tim Tebow, the most ballyhooed backup in NFL history. Nice knowing you, Drew.
Setback 3: Technically, being traded to Indianapolis wasn’t a setback, because Stanton loved being part of the Colts. But they were coming off a 2-14 season, had the No. 1 pick, and unquestionably were taking a quarterback. Shortly thereafter, they drafted Andrew Luck.
Stanton was happy to be with the Colts, and he and his wife even considered settling in Indianapolis. They liked Colts owner Jim Irsay, Coach Chuck Pagano and his staff, Luck … basically everyone. But Stanton was no closer to getting on the field.
Setback 4: Arians was interim coach in Indianapolis, and he thought so highly of Stanton that, after being hired as coach of the Cardinals in 2013, he signed the quarterback on the first day of free agency.
At long last, a chance for Stanton to compete to start. A chance to prove he was worth that second-round pick six years before …
And then the Cardinals traded for Palmer.
Again, the gregarious Stanton doesn’t view coming to Arizona as a career misstep. He’s happy to be where he is, even before he was tapped as the starter Sunday. But he’s relishing his opportunity now.
Just as he does every Tuesday during the season, Stanton went to Cardinals headquarters at 8 a.m. to lift weights and study tape on the opponent — Sunday’s game is at home against San Francisco — and wait for the game plan that’s distributed on Tuesday night. He doesn’t know if he’ll get the start again.
“I haven’t been told anything,” he said. “If Carson can play, he’ll play. If he wakes up tomorrow and can throw a football, he’s going to get every single rep. That’s the life of a backup in this league.”
But what Stanton was able to do Sunday inspired the confidence of his coaches and teammates, even though his numbers were a modest 14-for-29 passing for 167 yards, with no touchdowns or turnovers.
“He knows this offense inside out,” Arians said of Stanton. “He knows why we do what we do, so it’s easier for him sometimes, even, than Carson. But, every time he’s had an opportunity — two-minute drills in camp, that’s against our No. 1 [defense], so he’ll take the [second-string offense] down and score. So, I have utmost confidence in him.”
Week 2 was a big one for three former Michigan State quarterbacks, as Stanton, Cleveland’s Brian Hoyer, and Washington’s Kirk Cousins all led their teams to victory.
Stanton’s feeling a little sore this week, a good sore, one that feels like accomplishment. He took some hits against the Giants, including one that came after the whistle.
“It’s good to get knocked around a little bit,” he said. “Because it levels your head and you can focus on what you’re trying to do. Plus, you don’t want to get hit like that anymore.”
Stanton laughed when asked about his 3-year-old son, whose favorite player reportedly is Palmer.
“No,” he said. “My son is just getting into football. And Week 1 when we were at the game, the babysitter filmed my son, Asher, saying, ‘Go CAWson!’ He’s starting to get all these words and put them together.
“But I’m still his favorite player.”
And that’s one starting job he won’t soon lose.