CHARLOTTE, NC - JANUARY 24:  Carson Palmer #3 of the Arizona Cardinals reacts in the fourth quarter against the Carolina Panthers during the NFC Championship Game at Bank of America Stadium on January 24, 2016 in Charlotte, North Carolina.  (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)

What the hell happened to Carson Palmer?

During the regular season, Arizona Cardinals quarterback Carson Palmer was a legitimate MVP candidate. The 36-year-old, who led the NFL by a wide margin with a yards-per-attempt average of 8.7, was having a career year. And considering that he entered the playoffs supported by a top-notch receiving corps, a great running game and a stellar offensive line, there was no reason to expect those cylinders to stop firing in January.

But then Palmer laid a pair of postseason eggs, throwing six interceptions and turning the ball over eight times in two playoff games. Pretty amazing considering he turned the ball over just 13 times in 16 regular-season games.

Carson Palmer, 2015
Reg. season: 63.7%, 35 TD, 11 INT, 8.7 YPA, 104.6 rating
Playoffs: 59.3%, 4 TD, 6 INT, 7.2 YPA, 67.1 rating

A lot of people are now using hindsight to point to the fact Palmer was playing with an injured index finger on his throwing hand, but Cardinals head coach Bruce Arians doesn’t blame the phalange in question.

“Nothing is wrong with his damn finger,” Arians said after Sunday’s embarrassing six-turnover performance in a blowout season-closing loss to the Carolina Panthers. “You can keep all them questions. We just didn’t play well enough.”

The injury is bad enough that Palmer is sitting out the Pro Bowl, but that’s something that probably doesn’t deserve a lot of credence because everybody hates the Pro Bowl. I think the more important thing to take away from that injury is that it was sustained five weeks ago. And less than a week after suffering said injury, Palmer completed 18 of 27 passes for 265 yards and two touchdowns, posting a 107.8 passer rating in a blowout victory over Green Bay.

It’s hard to believe he could do that a month ago but was so badly affected by it on the last two weeks that he became a turnover machine. There must be more to it.

Of course, it’s possible Palmer just isn’t a clutch performer. The sample size is unfairly small, but Palmer is now 1-3 in playoff games. One of those losses came when he suffered a severe knee injury on his first and only pass, but in the other three he’s completed barely half his passes while throwing seven interceptions. And two of those games took place at home.

In the last decade, only one quarterback among the 23 with at least 100 playoff pass attempts has a lower postseason passer rating (Andy Dalton).

Unfortunately for Palmer, his legacy is tied to that track record. And as one of the few players left in the NFL born before the 1980s, he’s running out of time to fix it.

Brad Gagnon

About Brad Gagnon

Brad Gagnon has been passionate about both sports and mass media since he was in diapers -- a passion that won't die until he's in them again. Based in Toronto, he's worked as a national NFL blog editor at theScore.com, a producer and writer at theScore Television Network and a host, reporter and play-by-play voice at Rogers TV. His work has also appeared at CBSSports.com, Deadspin, FoxSports.com, The Guardian, The Hockey News and elsewhere at Comeback Media, but his day gig has him covering the NFL nationally for Bleacher Report.

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