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Palmer knee-deep in hope


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Palmer knee-deep in hope

Recovered from surgery, Bengals QB set for return

By Jim Trotter


August 26, 2006

GEORGETOWN, Ky. – Following a loss at Tennessee two years ago, Cincinnati quarterback Carson Palmer approached coach Marvin Lewis with his head down and his shoulders drooping. The Bengals appeared to be going in for the tying touchdown with 35 seconds to play and the ball at the Titans' 9 when defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth broke through for a sack and strip of Palmer.

The turnover ensured the Bengals a fifth loss in seven games to open the season, and it guaranteed Palmer another restless night. As he walked off the field, he repeatedly replayed the sequence in his head, scolding himself for not being more careful with the ball. He even apologized to Lewis when he saw him in the locker room.

“He said he was sorry for losing us the game,” Lewis recalled recently. “I told him, 'You didn't lose the game. You gave us a chance to win. You're the one who brought us back and gave us a chance to win.' But that was his mind-set, that he lost the game.”

At first, Lewis was filled with admiration. In taking the blame, Palmer had demonstrated the type of accountability that contributed to the Bengals selecting him No. 1 overall in the 2003 draft. But the more Lewis thought about it, the more he realized the looming pitfall of having his franchise player walking around so dejected – particularly when the Bengals were seeking to change the culture after more than a dozen years without a winning season.

“I thought about what he said, and the next time I saw him I told him, 'You need to carry yourself with the confidence that you always do,' ” Lewis said. “I told him that when I go downstairs to meet with the players, I don't know what to say all the time. But I know on Monday morning, on Wednesday morning, I've got to be prepared to say something. I've got to carry a message. I told him that sometimes I don't know quite what to say, or maybe I don't quite believe it, but I've got to fake it.”

Palmer is hoping he doesn't have to fake his feelings Monday night after playing in his first game since tearing two ligaments in his left knee Jan. 8 in a playoff loss to pissburgh. The game, against Green Bay, will mean nothing on the scoreboard, but it could be critical to the future of the Bengals, who figure to go only as far as Palmer takes them this season.

If Palmer leaves the game sound of mind and body – and not necessarily in that order – every Bengals fan, player, coach and executive will breathe a sigh of relief. However, if the fourth-year pro, budding superstar and $118 million man experiences a setback or comes away questioning the stability of the knee, well, even Lewis would have trouble masking his concern.

“I'm anxious to see how he holds up,” wide receiver T.J. Houshmandzadeh said. “You don't want to see him get hit, but you kind of do because you want to see it just to see him get up.”

How interesting: People have no doubts about Palmer's ability to lift a moribund franchise, but no one is certain he'll be able to lift his body after taking a hit on the knee. Including Palmer.

“I won't know how it will react to that until it happens,” he said. “I've been hit low hundreds of times since I began playing football in the sixth, seventh grade. Only one time it hasn't worked out in my case.”

Judging by the voting in next month's issue of Sports Illustrated For Kids, Palmer should make a full recovery. He was the preseason pick to be 2006 Comeback Player of the Year.

As recently as a month ago, there were more doubters than believers. Palmer admitted at the start of training camp that he didn't have confidence in the knee, telling reporters he still had mental barriers he needed to break through.

At the time, he targeted Monday night for his first game, a timetable that didn't sit well with Lewis. As things dragged on, Lewis suggested that the team might need to prepare someone else for the Sept. 10 season opener at Kansas City. He backed off that statement later, perhaps because he realized how insensitive he looked or because he didn't want to be perceived as the villain should Palmer come back early and suffer a setback.

Or maybe he simply sat back and thought about life without Palmer beyond the first month of the season, and how barren the landscape would be.

In only his second full season as a starter last year, Palmer led the NFL with 32 touchdown passes, ranked second with a 101.1 passer rating and was fourth with 3,836 yards passing. He also guided the Bengals to their first playoff appearance since 1990, restoring credibility to an organization that had lost it years earlier.

“He controls what we do,” running backs coach Jim Anderson said. “He's like that guy driving the bus, know what I mean? You know how when you have that school bus and all the kids get on the bus? That bus driver, he knows everybody, he can direct them. That's exactly what he does for us. He has assumed that role. He just feels that he knows what his job is, and his job is to lead us and put us in the right places. And our guys respond to him by making plays.”

Anderson, like everyone associated with the Bengals, speaks of Palmer in reverential tones. He is everything a team could want in a quarterback: 6 feet 5 inches, 230 pounds, strong-armed, strong-minded and totally committed. The former Heisman Trophy winner from USC has video and digital machines at his house that allow him to study tapes as if he were a coach, which he seems to be when he takes the snap. Even more impressive is that he's not afraid to get dirt under his nails.

When Lewis met with him shortly before the start of training camp, he looked at Palmer's shoes and shook his head. The sneakers were covered with grass stains and mud, which prompted Lewis to ask what Palmer had been doing.

“Pulling weeds and working in the yard,” the player said.

Lewis turned and looked at his young son, Marcus, then asked Palmer if he could take Marcus under his wing and instill the same type of work ethic in him. Palmer and his wife are so high-character that Lewis' wife has asked (jokingly?) that the two sell their home and move down the street from the Lewises.

“He's amazing,” Lewis said.

Teammates contend there was never a doubt that Palmer would carve a niche among the special quarterbacks. He didn't play a down his rookie season but wowed onlookers as the scout team quarterback in practice.

“He would make incredible throws,” running back Rudi Johnson said.

All-Pro wideout Chad Johnson was convinced even before Palmer signed with the Bengals.

“I knew when he was coming out of college that he would be special,” Johnson said. “All you had to do was see him throw. If you didn't know a thing about playing football or playing quarterback, and you just stood there and watched him throw, you'd know he was special. Something just looked different from everyone else.

“There are only a couple of quarterbacks that are 6-foot-5, rocket arm, put it on the money. I mean, you have 32 starting quarterbacks, but they're not all the same. It's like having a motorcycle, a scooter against a (high-powered) Hayabusa. Even though they do the same thing – they have two wheels and a motor – there's a big difference between them. Carson is just special, man.”

And real. He demands nothing from his teammates that he doesn't require of himself. When he sustained the knee injury, he cried on the training table because he felt he had let down his teammates. He underwent surgery two days afterward because he said he was determined to lead the offense again as quickly as possible, later saying he planned to be in the lineup for the season opener.

That made his comments at the start of training camp all the more newsworthy. Was he really uncertain about the knee, or was he, dare we say it, faking it in an attempt to keep opponents guessing? After all, Lewis had encouraged deceit after the loss to the Titans in 2004.

Palmer apparently took the words to heart, because the Bengals won six of their final nine games that season to finish 8-8. The week after losing at Tennessee, Cincinnati had a chance to put away Dallas with a late touchdown. Faced with a third-and-goal at the 2, Bengals coaches called for a power play to the tailback. Lewis overruled them and requested a quarterback keeper.

Palmer took the snap, faked to Rudi Johnson, then rolled around left end for the score. When Palmer reached the sideline, Lewis was waiting for him with a smile and the following message: “Sometimes you've just got to fake it.”


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Nice article, as usual, better than anything we get around here from the local corporate monkey hacks.

It's easier to write a fresh and original profile on a player when you don't have to write about the guy twice a week, all year round. I'm sure Hobson or Curnette would have something interesting to say about Phillip Rivers that Chargers fans haven't heard before.

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Nice article, as usual, better than anything we get around here from the local corporate monkey hacks.

It's easier to write a fresh and original profile on a player when you don't have to write about the guy twice a week, all year round. I'm sure Hobson or Curnette would have something interesting to say about Phillip Rivers that Chargers fans haven't heard before.

Actually, familiarity shouldn't prevent good journalism, but promote it.

I am an inveterate newspaper reader, and will go straight to the sports page after a cursory look at the front page. Earlier this month, I spent several days in Cleveland, and I cannot tell you what a joy it was to read a really good fricking newspaper for a change. The Enquirrer sucks, and the Post was prevented from putting out an early edition by their merger with the Inquisitor.

It's actually very simple: Good journalism breeds good journalism => good newspapers contain well-written and well-crafted stories about both the familiar and the obscure, and bad rags don't.

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I get my news (especially Bengals-related) from the internet, so I won't address the whole newspaper thing.

I just don't think you can compare a one-time feature by one writer to a regularly appearing column or a near-daily beat write-up by somebody else. It's not about familiarity, it's about quantity of material. You can only tell Palmer's story so many times.

How many times have we seen threads about the rookie profiles that Hobson writes....inevitably people on this board gush about how they're now cheering for Eric Henderson or Rashad Jeanty because they've just read the first and only bio ever written about the guy. Compare those responses to whoever wrote about these guys on a regular basis when they were in college or in the CFL. It's hardly an even playing field.

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Actually, familiarity shouldn't prevent good journalism, but promote it.

You'd think so, but it generally doesn't. (Exhibit A: the Washingbton DC press corps.)

Aaronburr is right, it's about familiarity. The beat system ends up promoting laziness and over-chumminess (not to mention contempt for the masses) as well as expertise. And much of that expertise is questionable; how manny Bengals reporters actually played any college or pro ball?

Yes, good reporters can overcome those issues, but really it's a management issue: papers should rotate reporters to different beats more often.

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Palmer is hoping he doesn't have to fake his feelings Monday night after playing in his first game since tearing two ligaments in his left knee Jan. 8 in a playoff loss to pissburgh.

Good stuff editing Pittsburgh into pissburgh for this article. It would be even better if you tell me you didn't edit it, but sports writers across the nation have now officially dubbed them pissburgh.

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