Anyone who has been around this blog for the last year or so knows that I'm a HUGE Carson Palmer fan. This is going to be the last time I bring up Palmer as I feel like its just beating a dead horse, and I'd like to lay my Palmer fandom to rest like most of the fanbase already has. So if you want lets go down memory lane and see if we can make sense of what happened.
Though I'm a huge NFL fan I'm not much of a college football fan. I usually only get interested in College ball when the draft starts to roll around, because I find it enjoyable to try and figure out where players will be drafted. I remember starting to hear about this quarterback from USC who was supposed to be the real deal. Wanting to know more I dug deeper and saw a tale of two players.
Carson Palmer was considered one of the top high school players when he left for USC, and he proved it as the first freshman to start for the Trojans. Palmer was the prototype build for a quarterback. 6'5", 230lbs, and a cannon arm. Despite all his physical abilities though, Palmer was considered an underachiever.
Between the 2000 and 2001 season Palmer posted 5,631 yards with 29 TD's to 30 INT's. In 2002 USC brought in Norm Chow as offensive coordinator to build a new offense around Palmer that played to his strengths. Something changed with Palmer that season and he could tell something was going to be different from the day Chow walked in the door.
"I really didn't know much about coach Chow until the first day he got here. When I saw his bio, I was like, 'Wow!' I had no idea. I thought, 'I can't wait to work with this guy.'"...He has no ego. And he's old-school. When I say he's old-school, I mean he dresses old-school, too! His shorts are up over his belly button and his shirt is tucked into his shorts." Coach Chow's offense: "We are running a lot of routes that are completely different now. I had never thrown a comeback or a hook-and-go off a five-step drop before. Coach Chow wants to throw it all game. And I love that...The key to it is taking what the defense gives you. That's what coach Chow tells me. I had been greedy, trying to throw the long ball when there's a guy 5 or 6 yards in front of me who's open. He told me I just have to be more patient."
Carson Palmer exploded in 2002 and finally became the player he was expected to be coming out of high school. 3,942 yards, 33TD's, and 10 interceptions. Palmer went from a "bust" to Heisman Trophy winner in a year and banked on that season with a #1 overall selection to our Cincinnati Bengals in the draft.
Palmer sat for a year behind John Kitna who played very and earned comeback player of the year in 2003. The bengals posted an 8-8 record under new coach Marvin Lewis and for the first time since I was a little kid watching the 89' superbowl there was some real hope in the town.
I can remember this night like it was yesterday. Paul Brown was packed to see the "Golden boy with the golden arm" from California who was going to save our franchise. Palmer had been on fire in his "rookie" debut posting a 105.2 QB rating in his first game as an NFL starter. It was a sign of things to come, but we would have to wait until later in the season to find out just what we had at quarterback.
2005 seems like a dream now doesn't it guys? We had who many considered the second best quarterback in the NFL. We had the best wide receiver in the nfl. We had the best possession receiver in the NFL. Palmer continued his hot streak from the end of 2004 and posted one of the best seasons of the decade. Palmer finished behind Peyton Manning for the MVP vote that season, but I don't think there was a player more important to their team that year.
In traditional Cincinnati fashion though, it was all put on the brink when "The Hit" happened.
The Bengals caved in that game and ended up getting blown out in the second half. Palmer's career was thought to be over and the dreams of a city came crashing down because of 1 man's knee.
Palmer though came back and started the first game of the 2006 season. Palmer continued to be considerded one of the best QB's in the league and posted a top 5 season. If it wasn't for the play of a certain individual the Bengals would have been back to the playoffs for a second year in a row.
2007 was the turning point down a darker road for Palmer and the Bengals. Cincinnati's vaunted offensive line was destroyed be free agency and injury. Palmer, now less mobile after the knee injury, suffered behind the line. So did the running game as Rudi Johnson, one of the leagues top backs, suffered as well. Palmer posted 4000 yards for the second consecutive year, but posted a career high in interceptions. Palmer's balls began to sail on him as he was forced to throw quickly and flat footed more often. Forcing balls led to a lot of turn overs and unfortunately a lot of losses.
I think a lot of the fan base was waiting for what happened in 2008. Palmer wasn't going to last as a pure drop back passer and eventually went down with a season ending elbow injury 4 games into the season.
Though Palmer hadn't posted a truly great season since 2006 he was still considered an elite quaterback but that changed in the 2009 season, and I personally don't feel that's a fair evaluation. Palmer played poorly for most of the season, but so did the entire team. Despite this Palmer willed a 6-10 team to a 10-6 record. The team looked beat up and tired by the end of the season though and Palmer, playing behind the stellar line of Nate Livings, Kyle Cook, and Lurch, didn't seem to have the same magic that he had earlier in the year. Even though the team made the playoffs we were again booted out in the wild card round. There were several key drops by our amazing top tier receivers and Cincinnati Bungled themselves out of the game.
2010 was supposed to be the season that Palmer was going to play to that 05/06 level again. We drafted the best tight end in the draft and lucked out in getting a steal in Jordan Shipley in the 3rd. Carson lobbied for the controversial yet talented Terrel Owens and the passing game looked like it would be a high flying show. Unfortunately we all know what happened. Somehow a team with Terrel Owens, Chad Ochocinco, Jermain Gresham, and Carson Palmer finished 4-12. There was a light at the end of the tunnel however when Palmer looked like a different quarterback throwing to 2 unheralded wideouts in Jerome Simpson, and Andre Caldwell when the TOCHO show went down with injuries. I was certain (Just like in every off-season) that Palmer was going to light it up with this kids in 2011....
Then came the moment that split this fan base like I've never seen. Out of nowhere the quiet leader of the franchise was demanding a trade and threatened retirement if he wasn't dealt. Mike Brown in all his genius has stated that no trade will occur and Palmer will retire a Bengal. How did this happen? We can all have our ideas or opinion, but I'm not sure we'll ever truly know why. Neither Brown nor Palmer strike me as the gossiping type, and Marvin Lewis' press conferences are an exercise in frustration.
Though I understand many people around gave up on the man a long time ago, I'm happy that I at least got see my favorite player play the best game of his careers in person at Paul Brown this year. I saw a QB who was nowhere near the end of his career and had this franchise handled things differently through the draft could be playing here for a lot longer.
No matter what happens I'll remember him as this quarterback http://www.nfl.com/videos/nfl-films-sound-efx/09000d5d81368c8c/Sound-FX-Palmer-vs-Flacco who, when he was in the game, I always felt like the Bengals had a chance.
I'll get behind whoever we draft this year, and I hope and pray they can turn this franchise around like Palmer did back in the 2004. Hopefully this franchise protects their investment better and we can go back to the playoffs and do what my favorite player never did, WIN.