Originally Published: December 21, 2017 11 p.m.
TEMPE — Drew Stanton acknowledged he’s surprised that he’s back as the starting quarterback for the Arizona Cardinals for the next-to-last game of the season.
Coach Bruce Arians benched Blaine Gabbert after five starts and turned back to Stanton, who still has soreness from a knee injury that gave the job to Gabbert in the first place.
Arians said he was making the move to give the Cardinals (6-8) their best shot at beating the New York Giants on Sunday in Arizona’s home finale.
“He’s as steady as they get,” Arians said after Wednesday’s practice with Stanton getting the starter’s reps. “He’s moving around really good now, and that’s that veteran presence in the huddle.”
Arians said Stanton’s knee still hurts.
“It’s bad,” the coach said. “He’s still going to play in a lot of pain but his mobility’s back.”
And Stanton said “there’s a little bit of an unknown there” with his knee situation.
“I’m going to continue to do everything I can to try and get as healthy as I can leading up to the game,” he said, “and feel good about it and get out there and not give it a second thought when I step inside those lines.”
Arians made the switch at quarterback after a particularly galling 20-15 loss last Sunday at Washington.
He said he made the decision to switch quarterbacks after reviewing the game tape on Monday.
“I think the biggest thing is we’re so close to winning that football game,” Stanton said, “and (if Arizona won) maybe we’re not having this discussion at that point, but that’s not for me to say. I’ve been called upon to play this week so I’m going to go out there and do whatever I can to help this team win now.”
Gabbert was 2-3 as a starter but struggled, especially with the team in the red zone. Still, Stanton didn’t see the change coming.
“I’ve been in this business for a long period of time and I’ve been fortunate to survive for 11 years and see the whole picture and have tried to see everything from different angles throughout the course of my career,” Stanton said. “So I understand the reason to stick with Blaine.”
Instead, Arians went back to the quarterback who’s been his backup for six seasons — one in Indianapolis and the last five in Arizona. Stanton is 7-4 as a starter in his five seasons as Carson Palmer’s backup, 1-1 this year.
“The competitor in me loves the fact that I get a chance to go out there and do it again,” Stanton said. “But at the same time the humanistic side of things is you feel bad for somebody that you’ve been around at this period of time with Blaine and stuff. And he’s handled it unbelievably well, which is no surprise to me, as a true professional.”
Gabbert completed only 16 of 41 passes for 189 yards with one interception and was sacked five times in the loss to the Redskins as Arizona was riddled by injuries up front, with its seventh different combination of offensive linemen this season.
But while the pass protection was sometimes shaky, the Cardinals ran the ball well for the second game in a row. Arizona finished with 141 yards rushing against the Redskins. Kerwynn Williams gained 61 yards in 17 carries, Elijhaa Penny, 45 yards in 10 attempts and Gabbert, 28 yards in six tries. Stanton, especially with a bad knee, won’t be nearly as much of a running threat as his predecessor.
But Arians is hoping that the overall offense operates better, particularly in the red zone.
Stanton inherits a beat-up team. Ten players didn’t practice Wednesday due to injuries.
“I’m hoping to get two or three back tomorrow and maybe four by Friday,” Arians said, “but it’s going to be touch and go on some of those guys. And, the flu is kind of running through the team right now.”
Four Cardinals were chosen for the Pro Bowl: wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald, outside linebacker Chandler Jones, cornerback Patrick Peterson and, on special teams, rookie Budda Baker. “I’m just happy for my man,” teammate Justin Bethel said of Baker. “He deserved it.” Bethel is a three-time Pro Bowl selection on special teams.