CLEVELAND (AP) – Arizona coach Bruce Arians didn’t throw a chair or erupt into a tirade at halftime. The Cardinals didn’t have to be told how badly they were playing.
So Carson Palmer and his teammates went out and did something about it.
Palmer threw four touchdown passes – three in the second half – as the Cardinals scored 27 unanswered points for a 34-20 win Sunday over the Browns, who lost two defensive starters with concussions and have reached a crisis point in their season.
Wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald said Arians delivered a simple message.
“He said, ‘We’re either pretenders or contenders. And it’s up to you to show who you are in the second half,'” Fitzgerald said. “When coach challenges you like that, we had to come out and respond.”
Palmer finished with 374 yards passing, including TDs on the first two possessions of the third quarter as the Cardinals (6-2) overcame a 20-10 halftime deficit. His third TD after halftime, a 6-yarder to Larry Fitzgerald, gave Arizona a 31-20 lead.
When they got to the locker room at halftime, the Cardinals were bracing themselves for the wrath of Arians. He decided to take a softer approach.
“Didn’t have to say much to them, they took it upon themselves, especially the leaders, to get what’s out there corrected,” Arians said. “I used to throw (stuff), but I can’t lift it anymore. Even the chairs are heavy.”
Palmer knew the Cardinals were capable of shaking off their lousy first half.
“As sloppy as it was, good teams find a way to come out and shut them out, go down and score points,” he said.
Michael Floyd had a 60-yard TD catch and tight end Troy Niklas had two short TD receptions to help the Cardinals overcome four turnovers and win in Cleveland for the first time since 1985.
The Browns (2-6) dropped their third straight, and cornerback Joe Haden and safety Donte Whitner sustained concussions on consecutive plays in the third quarter.
Browns quarterback Josh McCown had three TD passes in the first half, but the 36-year-old also played much of the second half in pain after taking a shot to already tender ribs. McCown said he never considered leaving the field and hopes to play Thursday night when the Browns visit the undefeated Cincinnati Bengals.
“I just wanted to be out there fighting with my guys,” said McCown, who had X-rays on his ribs but would not divulge the results. “I didn’t think I was hurting enough that it was going to keep me from doing my job.”
After beating Baltimore on Monday night, the Cardinals had a short week to prepare for their trip to Cleveland, and for long stretches they seemed ill-prepared. An early fumble by running back Chris Johnson helped the Browns build a 20-7 lead in the first half.
Johnson rushed for 109 yards on 30 carries and Chandler Catanzaro kicked two field goals for Arizona, which improved to 21-5 in non-division games under Arians.
Arizona’s offense went to work quickly after halftime.
Floyd, who finished with 106 yards, got behind Haden down the right sideline and hauled in a pass from Palmer, who just missed connecting on several long throws in the first half.
Arians joked that Floyd had been asking to get the ball.
“Mike kept telling me, ‘I can get him deep, I can get him deep,’ so we caught it and he came through for the first time in three years when he told me he was open,” Arians cracked. “I believed him this time.”
Still trailing 20-17, the Cardinals then took the lead on Palmer’s 1-yard toss to Niklas.
McCown missed practice time this week with a sore right shoulder and ribs, injuries sustained last week in St. Louis. He took a hard hit from linebacker Kevin Minter in the third quarter and grimaced as he got off the field before dropping to a knee. He was examined by trainers and returned.
McCown bent over several times as he fought the pain, and at one point he waved off Cleveland’s coaches and backup Johnny Manziel, who finally came in with 2:16 left and may have to play Thursday.
NOTES: The Cardinals had lost their two previous games in Cleveland. They were based in St. Louis the last time they won on Lake Erie’s shoreline. … Fitzgerald, who had 9 catches for 84 yards, rolled his right ankle in the end zone on his TD, but returned. … Arizona has a bye next week before visiting Seattle on Nov. 15.
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