Carson Palmer didn't need an X-ray or an MRI exam. The Arizona Cardinals quarterback knew as he writhed on the turf that the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee was shot.
He said as much Monday, still coming to grips with the fact he's done for the season with the 8-1 Cardinals off to their best start since 1948. His injury came in the fourth quarter of Sunday's 31-14 victory over St. Louis, when his knee twisted awkwardly after he avoided a tackle.
"I felt it right away, I knew right away," said Palmer, 34, the former Heisman Trophy winner and No. 1 pick from USC. "It didn't hurt. It hurt emotionally because I knew that this year was over for me, and that was what hurt. But it's not a painful injury. It doesn't feel good because it swells up, but emotionally it's a very painful injury."
Just two days before, Palmer signed a three-year contract extension. The plan is for him to wait a couple of weeks to allow the swelling to go down before surgery. The Cardinals intend to place him on injured reserve, which will officially end his season. The ideal timetable for recovery would have him ready to start practicing again by the middle of next summer.
"It's not easy, I'm not going to lie," said Palmer, who suffered a more severe injury to the same knee nine seasons ago at the start of a playoff game, when he was with the Cincinnati Bengals. "I cried like a baby last night, and I'm not an emotional guy. The last time I cried like that was when I lost my friend and teammate Chris Henry back in '09. So it's obviously not ideal and not something anybody wants to go through, especially with all the positives and all the good things going on."
One of those positives has been the play of backup quarterback Drew Stanton, who replaced Palmer on Sunday and shortly thereafter threw a 48-yard bomb to rookie John Brown for a touchdown. The Cardinals were trailing by four when Palmer was injured, but rallied with three fourth-quarter touchdowns — two by the defense — to win by a commanding margin.
Stanton stepped in when Palmer had a nerve problem in his shoulder earlier this season and guided the Cardinals to victories over the New York Giants and San Francisco 49ers.
"We can sit here and feel sorry for ourselves if we want to, but nobody else is going to," Stanton said Monday, his first day of preparations for Sunday's game against the 7-2 Detroit Lions, the surprise leaders in the NFC North.
Stanton, who played at Michigan State, was a second-round pick of the Lions in 2007 and was with them through the 2011 season. The NFL changes so fast, though, that he doesn't feel he has any special insight on their roster or strategies.
"The behind-the-scenes guys are probably the same — some of the equipment managers, some training staff guys, and certain staff," he said. "But as far as that organization goes, it's completely different from when I was there a couple years ago."
Cardinals Coach Bruce Arians joked he might have to bring the Slip 'n Slide out to practice to remind Stanton to do more to get down and protect himself. He had to leave the Oct. 5 game against Denver — Arizona's only loss this season — after sustaining a concussion.
"We just have to get him to slide a little better, throw some balls away, get rid of some macho-isms sometimes," Arians said. "And that's hard to do sometimes because you don't want to change the way a guy plays, but we need him out there."
The Cardinals' backup quarterback is rookie Logan Thomas, a largely untested fourth-round draft pick from Virginia Tech. He's played in one game, the 41-20 loss to the Broncos, when he replaced the injured Stanton and completed only one of eight passes -- though the completion went for an 81-yard touchdown. He also was sacked twice.
It sounds as if Stanton is getting the message.
"[Arians] got in my ear a little bit yesterday when I scrambled," Stanton said. "He said, 'There's no one left after you,' with some more explicit words than that. I'm cognizant of that, and I think that you have to adapt in this league and be smarter with your body."
Palmer said he's going to do whatever he can to help Stanton from the sideline.
"I'm going to do everything I can with the receivers," Palmer said. "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 I want to help. But you don't want to be in the way, and I don't know how to deal with that."
There are no upsides to Palmer's injury, per se, but at least now he can freely speak his mind about what kind of team he thinks the Cardinals are. He said there's "no doubt" they are still capable of winning the Super Bowl.
"Now, kind of being an outsider, not being able to be on the field, there's no doubt," he said. "What our defense did in the fourth quarter as soon as I went out, to turn around and score 14 points? That doesn't happen.
"I was talking to a couple guys in the locker room. They just said, 'Your air kind of gets blown out of you when you lose a player like that.' He said it seemed like everybody just took a big breath in and turned it on, on defense and on offense, and that's a Super Bowl team right there."