Arizona Cardinals vs. Cincinnati Bengals: 5 key observations from preseason Game 3

Five observations from the Arizona Cardinals’ 19-13 loss to the Cincinnati Bengals on Sunday night, in which the Cardinals’ starters played most of the first half for the first (and likely only) time this preseason.

Tune in to ABC15 Thursday at 6:30 p.m to see the Cardinals take on the Chargers.

1. Palmer’s painful performance

After completing 9 of 13 passes for 175 yards and a touchdown in the Cardinals’ first two preseason games, starting quarterback Carson Palmer looked more like the guy who threw 14 interceptions in the first half of the 2013 season.

On Sunday, Palmer threw one interception and tried to throw a couple more. His first-quarter pass intended for wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald was instead hauled in by Cincinnati cornerback Terence Newman and returned 54 yards for a score. For the night, Palmer completed just 7 of 19 passes, as he looked flustered under pressure and was unable to complete passes to open receivers even when he had time.

RELATED: Will Bengals rough up Carson Palmer?

2. Stanton stands tall

Meanwhile, backup QB Drew Stanton quietly continues to excel. Stanton, who hasn’t seen a regular-season snap since 2010, looks regular-season ready.

After completing 17 of 25 passes for 233 yards, two TDs and no INTs in Arizona’s first two preseason games, Stanton went 10 of 13 for 117 yards and a 30-yard third-quarter TD pass to rookie wide receiver John Brown. If and when Palmer falters or goes down with an injury, Stanton looks like he can step in and be perfectly effective.

3. Ellington excels

After getting just four combined carries against the Houston Texans and Minnesota Vikings, running back Andre Ellington took advantage of his expanded playing time on Sunday, reeling off runs of 24 and nine yards.

Ellington, who is expected to be the Cardinals’ feature back in just his second pro season, reminded people why he posted an NFL-best 5.5 yards per carry as a rookie in 2013.

4. Reining in the run

With the losses of defensive end Darnell Dockett (injury) and linebackers Daryl Washington (suspension) and Karlos Dansby (free agency), there are plenty of concerns that the Cardinals’ 2014 defense won’t be nearly as effective as the unit that was No. 1 against opposing running backs last season (84.4 yards allowed per game). But on Sunday, the Cards showed signs that they may be solid against the run again in 2014.

In the first quarter of Sunday’s game, Arizona’s first-team defense held Bengals’ No. 1 running back Giovani Bernard to minus-2 yards on 4 carries. The Bengals gained a total of just 41 yards on 15 carries (2.7 yards per rush) in the first half.

5. Fells flourishes

Before training camp began, pro basketball player-turned tight end Daniel Fells may have been a long-shot to make the Cardinals’ 53-man regular-season roster. But after a terrific series of practices, followed by his three-catch, 43-yard effort on Sunday, Fells’ goal suddenly seems attainable.

Fells did drop a point-blank pass from Stanton in the third quarter, but his hands didn’t fail him after that blunder. The former European and South American pro hoops player is certainly one of the Cardinals’ biggest August surprises.

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