The fallacy of blaming single players and a reminder that football is still a team sport

One commenter is bringing up a topic that I admit to being one of those issues that I'm a bit hard-headed about. While I'm not trying to demean the commenter, or embarrass him, I wanted to raise the topic of discussion, knowing that I'm a bit too biased to really accept differing opinion on this one.

There’s something I hear from more and more Bengal fans which has gone unnoticed and is generally forbidden to be spoken of in “Bengals Nation”. The more I review recent Bengal campaigns and the continual frustration the team, fans and city have had, the more I look at Carson Palmer. Speaking with other fans recently, no one could think of a game that meant something where he came through and won it in the clutch. I can think back to December 5, 2004 in Baltimore when I thought we had the second coming of John Elway, Troy Aikman, etc. Now he looks more and more like Drew Bledsoe. I don’t care if fans worship him and see him as untouchable. Was 12/5/04 the last fourth quarter/overtime comeback this team has had? How many close games can you remember where the offense with Bob Bratkowski and Carson Palmer failed miserably on a final drive that would have tied or won the game?

The point is fair while being unfair. It's about single-handedly winning games, driving when it mattered most, in the clutch. Scoring touchdowns to take the lead late. Here's some numbers for Palmer while the Bengals are losing (ESPN.com).

  Comp / Att Yards TD INT Rating Sacks
2008 57 / 100 602 3 2 76.3 3.0
2007 200 / 325 2,376 18 11 88.2 7.0
2006 122 / 207 1,370 10 3 88.8 21.0
2005 134 / 189 1,511 11 5 102.9 5.0

The numbers demonstrate that while the Bengals really do lack the ability to come from behind, it's hard to fathom that the issue is only Palmer. So let's take a look at some of the Bengals losses since 2006.

October 1, 2006: New England Patriots 38-13. At one point early in the fourth quarter, the Bengals were down 14-13. Close. The Patriots knocked off 24 unanswered points in the last 22 minutes of the game. The Bengals fourth quarter? They ran 12 plays for 16 yards and ended four possessions with fumble, fumble, punt and EOG. Both fumbles were forced on quarterback sacks. You could lay the blame on Palmer if you really felt the need. But you could as easily say that the defense collapsed and the offensive line failed.

October 15, 2006: Tampa Bay Buccaneers 14-13. With 12 minutes left in the game, Shayne Graham connected on a field goal to take a 13-7 lead. After an exchange of punts, Tampa Bay started their late fourth quarter drive from their own 46-yard line. After three passes, two complete, the Buccaneers were favored by the football gods after quarterback Bruce Gradkowski was supposedly roughed up by Justin Smith during a quarterback sack. Something about driving the quarterback into the ground. My hands are still raised to this day. The Bengals defense, five plays later, back pedaled into the end-zone watching Michael Clayton score a touchdown.

Even so, the Bengals were at their own 28 yard-line with thirty seconds left in the game. Here's how Palmer did: 19-yard completion to Houshmandzadeh, incomplete, sack, 17-yard completion to Houshmandzadeh. Shayne Graham misses on a 62-yard field goal with six seconds left in the game. The defense buckled, the offense lost eight yards on a quarterback sack and maybe the coaches could have called a quick pass with six seconds left to get Graham closer; not by much though; that would have been a stretch. The eight-yard loss is prevented and Graham has a shot at a 54-yard field goal.

October 26, 2009: Atlanta Falcons 29-27. The Falcons netted 420 yards on offense. Michael Vick completed 19 of 27 passes for 291 yards and three touchdowns. On the other hand, the Bengals were leading 17-13 at half-time. In the second half, the Bengals offense scored 10 points, went three-and-out twice and punted a total of three times. With :13 seconds left in the game, Palmer lost the football on a quarterback sack. The defense gave up 29 points. Palmer was sacked and the Bengals rushing offense was out-performed compared to the Falcons rushing offense: 73-143.

November 5, 2006: Baltimore Ravens 26-20. Palmer struggled in this one, completing only 12 passes on 26 attempts for 194 yards, a touchdown and two picks -- his second ending the game with :18 seconds left (aka, throwing it up because we needed to pick up 72 yards in :18 seconds). The Bengals defense struggled in this as much, allowing the Ravens defense 37:24 time of possession. While losing 17-7 at the half, the Bengals worked hard in the second half, outscoring the Ravens 13-9, scoring two field goals and a touchdown. Just not enough.

November 12, 2006: San Diego Chargers 49-41. Carson Palmer threw for 440 yards, completing 31 of 42 passes and recording three touchdowns. Chad Johnson recorded 260 yards receiving on 11 grabs. The Bengals were clearly dominating a 6-2 Chargers team taking a 28-7 half time lead. Then the defense. Boy, the defense. In the third and fourth quarter, respectively, the Bengals defense allowed 21 points -- that's 42 second-half points. Again, it's easy to point the blame of the loss on Palmer. But there's just no real way you can lay this on Palmer's feet unless you just can't let it go. At that point, I won't try to convince you. Admittedly, in this game, the Bengals fourth quarter (leading 38-28) went like this: fumble, punt, field goal, turnover on downs.

To End the 2006 Season -- and Palmer making comebacks. After railing off four straight wins -- two in very close situations that Palmer helped pull off against the Saints and Ravens -- the Bengals went into their historic nose-dive. If they win any of the final three games of the season, they make the playoffs for the second year in a row. If they don't, they meet a collapse that will be talked about in 2009. The Bengals had no shot against the Colts. Our defense turns into practice squad fodder every time we play them. Against the Broncos, the Bengals couldn't complete a simple point after touchdown. Note, they were losing 21-17 when Palmer led the Bengals back to a possible tie late in the fourth quarter. The Bengals were losing 7-3 heading into the fourth quarter against Pittsburgh. Palmer completed a 66-yard touchdown pass to Chris Henry and a five-yard touchdown pass to Tony Stewart. The Bengals were leading before Jeff Reed kicked a fourth quarter field goal to eventually send the game into overtime -- and eventually a loss.

Again, I understand the commenters point. But I can't find myself to blame Palmer. Admittedly, I'm hard headed on this. So let's move on.

September 16, 2007: Cleveland Browns 51-45. Bengals were losing 21-27 at half time. They were losing 38-41 heading into the fourth quarter. They lost the game 45-51. Palmer and the offense netted 531 yards total. The Browns netted 554 yards total. Palmer threw a fourth quarter interceptions with 1:03 left in the game giving the Browns a knee and the win. Again, if you want to blame Palmer on this, the evidence is there. But where's the defense to stop these 554-yard offensive performances by the opposition?

September 23, 2007: Seattle Seahawks 24-21. Losing 10-14 at half time, the Bengals recorded a safety, field goal and touchdown (two point conversion failed) in the second half, falling a field goal short of a comeback. Sadly, in the fourth quarter the defense allowed two drives that (at least) went over 60 yards each and scored 10 points.

October 1, 2007: New England Patriots 34-13. The Patriots went undefeated this year. I don't care who you are. No one beat them in the regular season. Not even god.

October 14, 2007: Kansas City Chiefs 27-20. Bengals losing 20-7 at half time. Palmer engineers three drives that scores 13 fourth quarter points -- including a 30-yard pass to Houshmandzadeh. Chiefs offense records 35:10 time of possession and Larry Johnson wears the defense out.

October 28, 2007: Pittsburgh Steelers 24-13. Bengals losing 21-6 at half time. The Steelers second half time of possession went like this: 7:39, 6:53 and 3:16 that ends the game. The Bengals had three second half possessions.

There's a trend in 2007 I'm trying to point out. Bengals are losing early, and team (everyone) struggles late to take the win. The defense can't stall drives when we needed them to, the rushing offense is limited because the team takes on early deficits and Palmer is task to record wins for the Bengals each time? C'mon. Let's be fair. Let's also be realistic that even if you get the best first-round pick available in 2010, you're not going to magically have different results. That's just too Madden-fantasy-like.

You might have ample evidence to convey a point that the Bengals should look into replacing Palmer. In my honest opinion, it's a point I'm not on board with. It's completely disregarding the Bengals lost rushing offense and a defense that historically got off to bad starts and struggled to get off the field having played far over 30 minutes by the end of the game. We say that football is a team effort. It is. There's no more realization than going back and remembering games, pointing out the defense of a single player. While in each instance, we could find as many reasons that the Bengals lost, and make a case that none of them involved Palmer. Team sport. Remember. So the point of Palmer not overcoming late game deficits is noted, I just disagree with it. The issue is that the Bengals are losing by the time we're into the fourth quarter. Once that resolves itself, Palmer can hand off the football and take knees. Isn't that much more desired?

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