I feel bad for the Cardinals, I really do. I would like to see the many well deserving members of the Arizona Cardinals find success. That includes people like Larry Fitzgerald, Bruce Arians, John Brown, and Patrick Peterson, all of whom are some of the most genuine and hard working guys in the NFL and deserve to be rewarded for their efforts.
I can't say the same about Carson Palmer. Don't get me wrong, I understand why he left the Bengals. In 2011, he was facing the prospect of having to go through a total franchise rebuild following a 4-12 season in 2010. If he wanted to win a Super Bowl, he felt his best chance was with a different team. On top of that, there were rumors that he and his family were being harassed by fans at his house. But, the fact of the matter remains: he was 31-years-old at the time and it was hard to imagine the Bengals really getting another serious shot at the playoffs with the current roster makeup. But, the abruptness of his decision was insulting and, ultimately, ill-advised. Many share this opinion, and many do not, but Bengals fans haven't shied away from expressing distaste for him since his departure from Cincinnati.
For a variety of reasons, he demanded a trade and threatened to completely retire if he didn't get what he wanted. He made good on that threat, too - never showing up to training camp, preseason, or the first games of the regular season. It was looking like the Bengals were content with not rewarding his temper tantrum and letting him retire. However, a combination of an incredible start to the season from Andy Dalton (6-2) as well as a blockbuster trade offer by then-Raiders' head coach, Hue Jackson, saw Palmer shipped to Oakland in exchange for a first round draft pick in 2012 and a conditional pick that turned into a second round pick the Bengals used on Giovani Bernard.
Personally, I rooted for him to succeed in Oakland. Sure, he left in the middle of a contract that, when signed, was the biggest contract in NFL history. Sure, he quit on his team for his own personal gain. But, everything worked out for the Bengals in the end and we all began to move on and adjust to life with Andy Dalton. Carson Palmer had one of his best statistical seasons the following year in Oakland, although the team clearly needed a bit more work for them to get to the point where they were a real competitor in the league.
Had that been where things ended, I would have been on his side. What actually happened was, he quit on the Raiders, too. Derek Carr had the Raiders going this year, but an on-board Carson Palmer could have given that franchise the jolt they needed. Instead, he quit on his second team in three years and joined the Arizona Cardinals in the 2013 offseason after two years spent with the Raiders.
Once he got to Arizona, he talked about how much of a struggle it was to "take on an owner" and how much it would mean for him to "beat the Bengals". You know, the team that made him the No. 1 overall pick, gave him the biggest contract in NFL history (to that point), and gave him the trade that he asked for when he decided that he didn't like it in Cincinnati anymore.
Meanwhile, the Bengals have doing just fine without him, actually they've had their best five consecutive seasons in franchise history since he left. They played his Raiders in 2012 and gave him the walloping that should have been expected (34-10; Palmer sacked four times). The picks acquired from the trade turned into Dre Kirkpatrick and Bernard, and you could also attribute the Kevin Zeitler pick to the deal as the Bengals had multiple first round picks that year. All three of those players have turned into key players on the team. The team went from a time with nearly no playoff appearances, to consistently making the playoffs every year behind a quarterback that loves giving back to the community.
All the while, it wasn't until this January that Palmer finally won his first playoff. That game came against a reeling Green Bay Packers team in the Divisional Round of the playoffs this season, and Palmer threw two poorly advised interceptions that nearly gave the Packers the drive to come from behind and win it in overtime. They held on, but primarily because Larry Fitzgerald did what Larry Fitzgerald does so well - he shredded the secondary, making catch after catch.
At this point, I was thinking, "is he really going to whine and quit his way to a Super Bowl?" "Are the Bengals really so bad that they wasted a Super Bowl caliber quarterback?" Then, the Cardinals ran into the Panthers, and Palmer did what Palmer did so many times with the Bengals, he choked. Despite being sloppy, he got it done against the Packers. From my perspective as a Bengals fan, I didn't want to see him show us up or get away with acting like a spoiled child in the Conference Championships.
Palmer stepped onto the field in the NFC Championship game where the Cardinals were facing off against the Panthers and was ineffective for the first quarter. He recorded a touchdown in the middle of the second quarter to bring the Cardinals within 10 points, but then he proceeded to turn the ball over six times. Yes, SIX. That's the Carson Palmer we all remember, right? He could put up the big numbers in the regular season, but he just didn't have "it" under the big lights. Sure, the Bengals have struggled under the big lights, too, but Palmer blamed his team. He blamed his ownership. He quit on the team. He quit on us. He acted like the Bengals were the problem only to discover that he was part of the problem all along.
Then, it happened. In a game where everything had gone wrong for Palmer and the Cardinals, they were staring at a 42-15 deficit and we got the icing on the cake. For the last score of the game, Luke Kuechly, who grew up in Cincinnati and was at Boston College during the time that Palmer quit on the Bengals, got the final pick-six of a game littered with turnovers and brought the score up to 49-15 for the Panthers, which is how the game ended.
It was beautiful. It was validation. It was classic Carson Palmer causing six turnovers in a Championship game while trying to go to the Super Bowl. Excuse me, while I continue on not feeling bad at all.