November 12, 2014

Drew Stanton has wanted an opportunity to be a starting quarterback in the NFL since the Detroit Lions took him in the second round of the 2007 draft.

The series of events leading him to that opportunity with Arizona has been unfortunate, but coach Bruce Arians is confident the Cardinals won't miss a beat with the career backup at the helm.

Stanton begins his journey as the starter Sunday as the league-best Cardinals seek a sixth consecutive victory both overall and against the visiting Lions, who have won four straight.

The 30-year-old out of Michigan State was drafted by his hometown team and made only four starts in three seasons for Detroit. Stanton didn't play a down in the NFL from 2011-13, but he went 2-1 as the starter earlier this season when Carson Palmer was sidelined with a shoulder injury.

When Palmer tore his ACL last week against St. Louis - two days after signing a three-year, $50 million extension with $20.5 million guaranteed - Stanton completed a 48-yard touchdown pass to John Brown in the fourth quarter to put the Cardinals (8-1) ahead for good in a 31-14 victory.

Now Stanton is faced with a new task: helping Arizona reach the Super Bowl, which will be played at its home stadium Feb. 1.

"It's an opportunity I've been looking forward to for a long time," Stanton said. "It's been eight years that I've been working toward this, so I don't take it lightly. It comes under unfortunate circumstances, without a doubt, but it's also part of my job description."

The Cardinals were unbeaten in each of Palmer's six starts, with the veteran throwing 11 touchdowns and three interceptions. Stanton's numbers are underwhelming - a 49.5 completion percentage, three touchdowns and a passer rating of 81.6 - but he hasn't thrown a pick and has appeared poised during his opportunities.

"He's proven to everybody he's more than capable of finishing the job this team has started," Arians said.

Stanton will have a little more on his mind than football, though. His wife, Kristin, gave birth to a baby girl Monday night - the couple's second child. He'll try to remain focused while trying to help Arizona overcome Palmer's absence.

"You can't rest on anything that's happened in the past," Stanton said. "I think that's why we are where we are (as a team), because we don't look back and we're not looking ahead, either."

There's certainly no reason to look past Detroit, which boasts a league-best defense that allows just 283.4 yards per game. It held Miami to 228 and forced a pair of turnovers in last week's 20-16 victory that kept the Lions (7-2) atop the NFC North.

Detroit also led the division through nine games last season before dropping six of its last seven and missing the playoffs. For that reason, first-year coach Jim Caldwell isn't looking too far ahead.

"It's a journey, and we're still on that journey,'' Caldwell said. ''We've got the team with the best record in the National Football League coming up. You better get focused in on them quickly.''

He doesn't believe the Lions are getting a break with Stanton starting in place of Palmer, either. The Cardinals still have Larry Fitzgerald, Michael Floyd and Brown as weapons in the passing game, and while Andre Ellington has struggled to run the ball, he has 37 receptions out of the backfield.

''The one thing about quarterbacks is that they don't have to go in there and do it alone," Caldwell said. "... (Stanton) can deliver the ball, he's an accurate guy."

Matthew Stafford hasn't been as accurate as he'd like, ranking 23rd in the league with a 61.4 completion percentage. His touchdown pass to Theo Riddick with 29 seconds left last week gave Detroit the victory, though, and it also marked the first game back for star receiver Calvin Johnson after he missed three with an ankle injury.

Johnson caught seven passes for 113 yards and a touchdown, while Golden Tate continued his strong season with 11 receptions for 109 yards. Tate's 66 catches rank second in the league, and he set a franchise record with six straight games with at least seven receptions.

He's also made some big ones in the final minutes of the last three games, which the Lions have won by a combined six points.

''We just fight. We have a really, really good team," Tate said. "Unfortunately it keeps coming down to the end, but the game is never over until it says zero on the clock."

Stafford threw both of his touchdown passes to Johnson in last season's meeting at Arizona, but Palmer guided the Cardinals to a 25-21 win. Detroit has lost all seven road matchups since a victory in 1993 and has dropped five straight meetings overall since 2006.

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