CINCINNATI (AP) _ Two games, seven touchdown passes, a pair of
scintillating fourth-quarter comebacks. The numbers and the drama
suggest Carson Palmer is starting to get it.
Right on schedule.
The fledgling quarterback is starting to look like a passer who
can carry a franchise _ in this case, the NFL's worst. Palmer has
led the Cincinnati Bengals (6-6) to 85 points and two wins in the
last two weeks, moving them to the fringe of playoff consideration.
Something's going on.
``I have seen Carson mature in every game,'' said offensive
tackle Willie Anderson, who has seen a host of quarterbacks flop in
Cincinnati. ``It's the natural process of the more you play, the
better you get. That's pretty much all you can ask for.''
Coach Marvin Lewis knew it would take time for the 2002 Heisman
Trophy winner and No. 1 overall draft pick to get this far. Palmer
didn't take a snap in his rookie season, watching while Jon Kitna
led the Bengals to an 8-8 finish and won the league's Comeback
Player of the Year award.
Lewis elevated Palmer once the season ended, prepared to accept
his growing pains. Palmer went through plenty during Cincinnati's
1-4 start, getting little help from a struggling defense and an
injury-riddled offensive line.
Now, it's all starting to come together.
``I think (Ben) Roethlisberger is kind of set apart from
everybody else,'' Palmer said, referring to Pittsburgh's rookie
quarterback. ``It seems like with all quarterbacks, it really takes
them awhile to get in the groove. I know it's taken me awhile. I
wouldn't say I'm comfortable out there, but I'm starting to get
there more and more.''
He's arriving at the right time.
The good ones tend to emerge late in their rookie seasons.
They've seen all of the tricks a defense can throw at them and
learned how to react.
In 1998, rookie Peyton Manning threw 16 touchdown passes and 22
interceptions in his first 11 games. Then, he began to get the hang
of it: 10 touchdowns and only six interceptions in the final five
It was the start of something big. Manning threw 26 touchdowns
and only 15 interceptions the next season, showing he'd learned a
lot from his rookie mistakes.
So far, Palmer is following a similar timetable. He threw for
seven touchdowns and 12 interceptions in the first nine games,
operating a low-risk game plan designed to take the pressure off
Palmer has opened it up in the last three games, throwing for
nine touchdowns and five interceptions. He was chosen the AFC's top
offensive player for his amazing comeback in Baltimore last Sunday.
Excluding two clock-stopping spikes, Palmer completed 13 of his
last 14 passes for 215 yards and three touchdowns, rallying the
Bengals from a 20-3 deficit against one of the league's stingiest
The best sign of what's afoot: Palmer threw 10 passes to Chad
Johnson and 10 to T.J. Houshmandzadeh, who combined for 332 yards.
Instead of forcing throws, the rookie stayed calm and found the
``He has continued to gain the confidence that people will be
where they are supposed to be,'' Lewis said. ``Playing quarterback,
the main thing is to be in sync with everybody else and be
coordinated. I think we have seen that in his development.''
Earlier in the season, Palmer would take a sack, and was dropped
19 times in the first seven games. But only six times in the last
five games has he been sacked.
Or, he'd force a throw to Johnson even when he was covered.
No more. Houshmandzadeh has 14 catches for 250 yards in the last
two games, an indication Palmer has learned what to do when Johnson
is drawing a crowd.
``It's more than anything Carson feeling comfortable with me,''
Houshmandzadeh said. ``He had a natural comfort level with Chad. He
just had to get comfortable with me. I hope it stays.''
Palmer doesn't feel totally comfortable with all that's going on
around him. Things still seem to happen fast when the ball is
snapped, but he's keeping up much better.
``It hasn't slowed down really at all,'' Palmer said. ``But I
think the more you're in certain situations, the more blitzes you
see, the more times you see a certain coverage, you start to pick
things up and figure things out.
``But I don't know. I don't know what Peyton sees out there, but
it must be really slow for him.''
Or, maybe he's just able to set a fast pace.
That's one thing left for Palmer to figure out.