GLENDALE, Ariz. -- From the first series to his very last on Sunday, Carson Palmer showed just how much he means to the Arizona Cardinals.
As if there was any doubt.
Palmer threw three touchdown passes in his first game back from a torn ACL and the Cardinals opened their season with a 31-19 victory over the New Orleans Saints on Sunday. In the process, he became the first Cardinals quarterback since Jim Hart to win seven straight starts,
"I thought he played outstanding," coach Bruce Arians said. "He came out on fire."
Drew Brees threw for 355 yards but just one touchdown. The Saints had to settle for Zach Hocker field goals after four drives.
"We had some opportunities a few times," Brees said, "and we go down the field and kick field goals, not touchdowns."
Arizona's Andre Ellington rushed for 69 yards before being carted off with a right knee injury.
Palmer directed a nine-play, 80-yard touchdown drive after the opening kickoff, punctuated by a 10-yard TD pass to John Brown. The other two scoring passes came in the fourth quarter. Darren Fells made a 17-yard fingertip catch for one score and Arizona clinched it with Palmer's 55-yard pass to rookie David Johnson with 1:33 to play.
Palmer, 14-2 in his last 16 starts, completed 19 of 32 passes for 307 yards with no interceptions.
Arizona was 8-1 when Palmer went down last season, 3-5 after that, including a wild card playoff loss with their third-string quarterback.
An injury to Ellington would be a tough blow after he played with a torn tendon in his left foot in 2014 before a core muscle injury ended his season. Arians said Ellington appeared to have a posterior cruciate ligament injury, although further tests are planned.
Chris Johnson, a late free agent signing, relieved Ellington. But it was a third running back, David Johnson, who made the play that assured the win.
The Cardinals figured the Saints expected them to keep the ball on the ground to run out the clock, and Johnson was wide open for the short pass.
"It wasn't designed to score," Arians said. "It was just designed to get us a first down."
The fleet third-round pick out of Northern Iowa took a pass out of the backfield and used a burst of speed to run down the right sidelines to the end zone.
Larry Fitzgerald wasn't surprised by the play call.
"In coach Arians' car," Fitzgerald said. "There is no cruise control."
Palmer loves that approach.
"You love being offensive on offense," he said.
Fells, who played basketball at UC Irvine, caught four passes for 82 yards, the most in a game by a Cardinals tight end since 1989. Larry Fitzgerald had six catches for 87 yards.
Brees, trying to lead the Saints back from a 7-9 season, completed 30 of 48 passes with one touchdown and one interception.
Mistakes doomed New Orleans, coach Sean Payton said.
"We had seven penalties," he said, "...a handful of holding and pass interference calls."
In his first series since blowing out his knee, Palmer completed 5 of 6 passes for 62 yards. From the 10-yard line, Palmer rolled right and after checking off to receivers all over the field, found Brown open for the touchdown.
The already depleted New Orleans secondary took a blow when safety Rafael Bush, who had started in place of injured Jarius Byrd, left with a chest injury in the third quarter.
Notes: The Saints were called for three penalties on one play, two of them against cornerback Delvin Breaux. ... The last Cardinals tight end with more yards receiving was Roy Awalt, who had 105 against Dallas on Nov. 12, 1989. ... Rashad Johnson's interception came when Brees' pass bounced off Marques Colston's hands.