There was a time when most football fans acknowledged Carson Palmer as an elite quarterback. Not since Peyton Manning had a player seemed so destined for perpetual mega-stardom. He was a big, strong, intelligent guy who put up through-the-roof numbers in 2005 and 2006. Then he threw 20 interceptions in '07, his team went 7-9 and his legacy points were taken away.
The excuse most Bengals fans developed for Palmer's struggles was the anemic play-calling of Bob Bratkowski. The beleaguered offensive coordinator—who only two seasons earlier was hailed by the city as an offensive genius—found himself vilified for the rapid deterioration of the offense, particularly of the running game. It was believed that the predictability of his play-calling made it easy for defenses to shut down the run, and Palmer was forced to make up the difference which he was unable to effectively accomplish.
Things got even worse in 2008, when the team lost its first eight games, including four losses that Palmer participated in before hurting his elbow and missing the rest of the season. Calls for Bratkowski's job could be heard all over Cincinnati by the end of that year, but Palmer was once more let off the hook. This time, the porous offensive line was to blame. Carson was sacked 11 times those four games compared to 17 times in an entire season the year before.
Finally, Bratkowski promised to switch up his play-calling and the team transformed into a power-running team in '09. That transformation had an interesting effect on Carson. While his play and statistics were both solid yet modest, he seemed to operate comfortably within a run-first offense. Instead of shooting out with teams, the Bengals preferred to keep the score close and let Palmer close it out in the end—Carson was credited with three fourth-quarter comebacks and five game-winning drives that season. Even though he wasn't on pace to throw for 4,000 yards or 35 touchdowns, by mid-season it seemed he had gained back some of those legacy points.
Then Chris Henry broke his forearm and the passing game fell apart almost completely.
After the Jets beat the Bengals in the wild-card game last year, a new excuse for Palmer was born; Cincinnati simply didn't have the offensive firepower to compete in the Playoffs. To prove the point, the team sent the disappointing Laveranues Coles packing after only one season, and aggressively retooled the passing game throughout the offseason with new weapons. Of those, is a prototype new to Bratkowski and the Bengals: Jermaine Gresham. Never has Carson had a tight end of such talent and potential. Perhaps it will be the difference next January—only time will tell.
The point is that Carson Palmer is 30 years old, entering his eighth season and is effectively out of excuses to be great.
I am not dissatisfied with Palmer nor would I begin to argue for his replacement. He is a very good quarterback—perhaps within the top 10 at his position—but if he is to ever establish himself in the annals of NFL greatness, he will have to elevate his game a notch or two throughout the whole season and win in the Playoffs next season. The offensive line is fine, the running game is fierce, the new shipment of receivers is here, Bratkowski is still around but the new philosophy suits Palmer well; the time is now.
If Palmer remains in the very-good category for the rest of his career, then he should be proud of himself. Decent quarterbacks are hard to come by; it took many failed attempts before we came across one. To ask him to do more is easy from a guy with a laptop and a couch, but I still see the potential in him to be better. I still think that he can be great, but that window is closing; 2010 will cement my opinion either way.
Mojokong—People who like this sort of thing will find this the sort of thing they like—Abraham Lincoln, in a book review.