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Carson Palmer and Larry Fitzgerald are leading an old man movement for the Cardinals

Carson Palmer, Larry Fitzgerald and Chris Johnson are turning back the clock to lead the Cardinals to a quick start in 2015.

Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Chris Johnson celebrated his 30th birthday last week and followed that with his first multi-touchdown game since he played for the Tennessee Titans. As a member of the Arizona Cardinals, Johnson racked up 110 rushing yards and two touchdowns in Week 3, as well as a reception he took for 40 yards.

Now the 30-year-old version of CJ2K is the leading rusher through three weeks on a roster that has a quarterback who is 35 and a leading wide receiver who is 32.

Both Carson Palmer and Larry Fitzgerald made their first Pro Bowls with strong showings in the 2005 season. Since then, Palmer has gone through a roller coaster career that included injuries and the threat of retirement, while Fitzgerald was a model of quiet consistency in Arizona with a rotation of quarterbacks that more resembled a game of musical chairs than any semblance of stability.

The peak of Fitzgerald's career came when Kurt Warner's stint with the Cardinals helped the team to a Super Bowl, but after three straight seasons with fewer than 1,000 yards receiving, the high point of the receiver's career looked to be long in the rearview mirror.

While young offensive players like David Johnson and John Brown, and a defense with talent like Tyrann Mathieu and Alex Okafor are certainly a huge factor in the 3-0 start, it's a trio straight out of your 2009 championship-winning fantasy roster leading the way for a Cardinals team that looks like it could be the NFL's best.

Racking up passing stats at 35+

Finding success at 35 isn't unheard of in the NFL for a quarterback, but it's not very common. There's plenty of football still to be played, but a 117.8 passer rating for Palmer is something special at that age. Only a handful of players have been able to put up numbers that could be considered prolific at that age, and Peyton Manning tops that list with his three most recent seasons with the Denver Broncos.

While the dominance of Manning and Tom Brady in recent years has normalized the idea of an older quarterback finding success, truly excellent seasons at that age haven't been a common reality in the NFL. Only 11 times has a quarterback finished a season with a passer rating over 100 at 35 or older.

Name Year Age Team G GS Cmp Att Cmp % Yds TD INT Rate
Peyton Manning 2013 37 Broncos 16 16 450 659 68.29 5477 55 10 115.1
Brett Favre 2009 40 Vikings 16 16 363 531 68.36 4202 33 7 107.2
Randall Cunningham 1998 35 Vikings 15 14 259 425 60.94 3704 34 10 106.0
Peyton Manning 2012 36 Broncos 16 16 400 583 68.61 4659 37 11 105.8
Y.A. Tittle 1963 37 Giants 13 13 221 367 60.22 3145 36 14 104.8
Steve Young 1997 36 49ers 15 15 241 356 67.70 3029 19 6 104.7
Charlie Conerly 1959 38 Giants 10 9 113 194 58.25 1706 14 4 102.7
Dave Krieg 1994 36 Lions 14 7 131 212 61.79 1629 14 3 101.7
Vinny Testaverde 1998 35 Jets 14 13 259 421 61.52 3256 29 7 101.6
Peyton Manning 2014 38 Broncos 16 16 395 597 66.16 4727 39 15 101.5
Steve Young 1998 37 49ers 15 15 322 517 62.28 4170 36 12 101.1

With nine touchdowns and two interceptions, Palmer is well on his way to notching his own name on the list, although injuries have been the concern that he'll need to avoid.

Turning back the clock

Solid seasons for running backs and wide receivers after 30 are also uncommon, but not nearly as unprecedented as the recent successes of older quarterbacks. Plenty of backs have reeled off 1,000 yard seasons after 30 and plenty of receivers have had 1,000 yards at 32 or older.

What makes the good starts in 2015 more impressive for Johnson and Fitzgerald is that they come after the least productive seasons of their careers in 2014.

Of course, it bears repeating over and over that it's still early. But at their current rates, Fitzgerald is pacing for a career-best 1,776 yards while Johnson is on track for 1,381.

Tougher teams on the way

The prolific numbers for the Cardinals might be a little more impressive if they didn't come against three teams with a combined 1-8 record. The New Orleans Saints, Chicago Bears and San Francisco 49ers all have plenty of problems to deal with and the St. Louis Rams, Arizona's Week 4 opponent, haven't exactly been world beaters either.

What the Rams have done, though, is play solid defense. With a defensive line boasting stars like Robert Quinn and Aaron Donald, St. Louis has a top 10 defense and should present the Cardinals with a more realistic test.

In the latter half of the year, the Cardinals will play the Seattle Seahawks twice and other top contenders like the Cincinnati Bengals and Green Bay Packers. Couple that with the danger that comes with older stars -- attrition and injuries -- and it's probably not fair to expect the current paces for Palmer, Fitzgerald and Johnson to hold all year.

But until then, Arizona will keep hoping that the team's old guys keep playing like young guys.