When Marvin Lewis arrived in Cincinnati back in 2003, the Bengals had been clamoring for a franchise quarterback since Boomer Esiason was run out of town back in 1992.
David Klingler, Neil O’Donnell, Akili Smith and Jon Kitna couldn’t fit the bill, so Lewis looked for a clean slate at the position 15 years ago.
As it turns out, the then-new coach used a No. 1 overall pick at the position in Heisman Trophy winner, Carson Palmer. Lewis’ very first draft pick as an NFL head coach ended up becoming one of the best selections the team has ever made.
Accolades and passing marks under Lewis:
Passing yards: 22,694 (fourth-highest in team history)
Passing touchdowns: 154 (fourth-highest in team history)
Completion percentage: 62.9 (highest in team history, minimum 500 attempts)
Quarterback Rating: 86.9 (second-highest in team history, minimum 500 attempts)
Game-winning drives: 17 (third-highest in team history)
Pro Bowls: 2 (2005, 2007—MVP in 2007 game)
Why he makes the list:
Passing records: Before Andy Dalton’s arrival, Palmer owned the top three single-season passing yards records in team history (2005, 2007, 2010), as well as having the most touchdowns in a single season (2005). Palmer also rebounded from some pretty bad injuries to his knee, nose, elbow and ankle to lead the team to the postseason once again in 2009.
Playoff berth(s) 15 years in the making: In just his second season as a full-time starter, Palmer re-wrote the Bengals record books and led the team to an AFC North title in 2005. Many still wonder what would have happened in that postseason tournament if he wasn’t hurt in the Wild Card round against the Steelers.
Success with two very different Bengals rosters: As mentioned above, Palmer, along with Lewis, brought two very different-looking rosters to the January tournament. And though Palmer’s stats were very different in 2005 from those in 2009, he was still at the helm of teams in which he played to its respective strengths.
Why he isn’t ranked higher:
Zero playoff wins: Dalton’s 0-4 record in the postseason is the current barometer for NFL playoff failure, but Palmer didn’t fare much better with an 0-2 record. In the two games with the Bengals, Palmer was 19-37 (51.4 completion percentage) for 212 yards, one touchdown and one interception. Yes, the injury against the Steelers leaves questions, but...oy.
Surrounding offensive talent: Interestingly enough, the argument for Dalton’s reasonable amount of success with the Bengals resides in multiple stout defensive units and plethoras of offensive weapons. If you actually look back at Palmer’s career, some of the same could be said.
His offensive line unit from 2003-2007 was essentially the second-best the team has ever fielded, behind the 1980s group led by Anthony Munoz, Max Montoya and Bruce Kozerski. Aside from that, he had Chad Johnson, T.J. Houshmandzadeh, Chris Henry, Kelley Washington, Rudi Johnson and others at his disposal.
A couple of not-so complimentary nicknames: Whether you like to use “the quitter” or “pick-six Palmer,” regardless of their levels of fairness, there is at least a little bit of truth to the monikers. Unfortunately, because of the bitter divorce between the Bengals and Palmer, these aspects play into his mid-range ranking among the top 10 players in the Lewis era.