Cardinals, Johnson run away from Jets
GLENDALE, Ariz. -- David Johnson ran the Arizona Cardinals back to the .500 mark.
The second-year running back rushed for three touchdowns and 111 yards, and the Cardinals won their second straight, beating the sliding New York Jets 28-3 Monday night.
Johnson, who carried 22 times, scored on runs of 58, 2 and 2 yards to become the first back to rush for three touchdowns against the Jets since LeSean McCoy did it in 2011.
Johnson's eight rushing touchdowns lead the league. Four players are tied for second with six apiece.
The win vaulted the Cardinals (3-3) into a second-place tie with the Los Angeles Rams in the NFC West, 1 1/2 games behind the Seattle Seahawks. The Jets (1-5) lost their fifth straight, leaving them alone in last place in the AFC East.
"I was very pleased with the way this game went," Arizona coach Bruce Arians said. "I thought all three phases played smart and fast. We had one little lapse with a couple penalties, but coming up with the (two) turnovers was big. I thought this was a heck of a defense to run the ball against, and I thought we accomplished that."
Carson Palmer returned to his role as the Cardinals' starting quarterback after missing the previous game because of a concussion. He finished 23 of 34 for 213 yards with one touchdown and no interceptions.
Palmer left the game in the fourth quarter, however, with what the team announced as a strained hamstring. He was replaced by backup Drew Stanton. Afterward, Palmer said he was just experiencing some cramping because he was dehydrated. It happened, he said, because the Cardinals were on the field for so long during three long scoring drives.
"The way we ran the ball against that rush defense was incredible," Palmer said, particularly praising Arizona's two new starting guards, John Wetzel and Earl Watford. "(We are) down two starters on the front, (and the Jets) are really, really good up front in the run game. I think they're No. 1 or 2 in the league in rush defense, and we ran the ball extremely effectively. Don't think we had a sack all day; just an unbelievable job up front."
Jets quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick, returning to his home state, completed 16 of 31 passes for 174 yards with no touchdowns and one interception. The pick, Fitzpatrick's league-leading 11th of the season, was a critical one, too.
It came with the Jets moving the chains well during a long, time-consuming drive toward the end of the third quarter. On third-and-7 from the Cardinals 14-yard line, a pass intended for Brandon Marshall was intercepted by Arizona safety D.J. Swearinger.
The interception helped protect a 21-3 lead, and the Cardinals converted their 13th forced turnover into a touchdown. Palmer directed a 14-play, 89-yard drive that consumed 7:26, capping it with a 9-yard scoring pass to Michael Floyd. It was the third touchdown reception of the year for Floyd, who has had trouble with dropped passes.
Jets coach Todd Bowles, who spent two seasons with the Cardinals as their defensive coordinator under head coach Bruce Arians, lifted Fitzpatrick with 8:40 left in the game and replaced him with Geno Smith.
It was the first time this season that Fitzpatrick didn't finish a game.
Smith was 4 of 6 for 31 yards and no touchdowns. His sixth pass was intercepted by Cardinals safety Tyrann Mathieu. The Cardinals are now tied with the Chiefs for the most interceptions in the league (nine).
Bowles isn't thinking about making a permanent change at quarterback, saying after the game, "Anything's possible, but right now we're not discussing that."
Fitzpatrick, though, said, "We're sitting at 1-5, so there's obviously stuff that needs to change. I would love to be a part of that change and trying to get it headed in the right direction. It's a tough situation for everybody. We didn't think we'd be in this situation. But, I mean, I've dealt with plenty of adversity and played with plenty of adversity in my life. ... I want to be out there fighting with the guys."
Asked why he made the quarterback change Monday night, Bowles said, "Well, the game was 28-3 with eight minutes left in the game. We weren't doing anything else. I just wanted to give (Smith) some reps."
Arizona did something Monday night it didn't managed to do once during the first five games of the season. The Cardinals scored in the first quarter.
"That's something we've been talking about for a month and a half, especially to get the crowd going early," Arians said. "That was something we needed to do."
The only team that had yet to score at all in the first quarter, Arizona got around to doing so with 9:51 left in the period when Johnson ran to his left, made a little cut and bounced outside on his way to a 58-yard touchdown.
It was Johnson's longest run of the season, but he wasn't done. He scored again on a 2-yard run to cap an 11-play, 75-yard drive in the second quarter, increasing the lead to 14-3. Though the Jets were in their goal-line defense, Johnson, waiting 5 yards behind Palmer, wasn't even touched as he ran straight up the middle and easily made it to the end zone.
His two first-half scores were his 19th and 20th of his career, moving him ahead of Ottis Anderson (19) for the most touchdowns by a Cardinals player in his first two NFL seasons. He now has 21, and he still has 10 more games to play.
The Jets, playing without wide receiver Eric Decker for the rest of the season after shoulder surgery, had trouble finding any rhythm on offense early because of penalties. They were flagged eight times for 59 yards in the first half (10 times for 83 yard overall) and could only manage a 39-yard field goal by Nick Folk.
Cornerback Buster Skrine committed four of the Jets' 10 penalties, which did not please Bowles.
"Questionable or not, four penalties are four penalties," the coach said. "He had a bad game. He's got to be better with his hands. We can't play like that, and he can't play like that if he's going to have penalties and get handsy like that."
NOTES: Cardinals rookie DT Robert Nkemdiche was active for the first time since the season opener. He wasn't credited with a tackle, but he had a pass defensed. Coach Bruce Arians said Nkemdiche was making far too many mental mistakes in practice. ... The Jets played without starting LB David Harris (hamstring), whose streak of playing in 121 consecutive games ended. It had been the seventh-longest active streak in the league. ... The Cardinals improved to 28-7 under Arians against non-division opponents, including a 18-1 mark against non-division foes at home.