It's been painful to watch.
The once very promising quarterback from Fresno, California who seemed poised to resurrect a struggling franchise has fallen apart.
It's sad. Truly, truly sad.
Carson Palmer gave the Bengals every reason to be excited about their future.
In his senior year of college, he set records for completions, passing yards, and passing touchdowns at USC, where he roomed with future Pittsburgh Steeler Troy Palomolu. He became the first Trojan quarterback to win the Heisman trophy, considered college football's top individual achievement award.
He was drafted number one overall by the Cincinnati Bengals in the 2003 NFL draft. For that season, he remained off the field, learning the Bengals' offensive scheme under veteran quarterback John Kitna.
In 2004, he became the Bengals' starter, and lead the team to a respectable 8-8 record. The following year, he set the NFL on fire, leading the league with 32 touchdown passes. He also became the first Cincinnati Bengal quarterback to finish the season with a rating over 100. The team finished the season 11-5, their first winning season since 1990.
The Bengals looked ready to make a deep playoff run, there was even talk a Super Bowl run, which would be their first since the 1988-89 season.
Then came the Bengals' first pass play of their first playoff game against the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Steelers' tackle Kimo von Oelhoffen unintentionally made heavy contact with Palmer's leg, severely damaging his knee. Palmer was out for the game, and subsequently the entire post-season. The Bengals lost that game 31-17, as the Steelers went on to win Super Bowl XL.
Palmer underwent reconstructive surgery on his knee, and vowed to be the Bengals' starting quarterback for the 2006 season. And he did just that, starting every game of that season, and only missing a single snap due to having the wind knocked out of him.
He put up even more staggering numbers in 2006, passing for over 4000 yards and throwing 28 touchdown passes. He made the Pro Bowl for the second consecutive year, and would go on to lead the AFC down the field in the final two minutes to win the game. He was later named Pro Bowl MVP.
The downside to the 2006 season was that the Bengals struggled elsewhere. They made special teams mistakes, missing field goals and even point-after attempts. After starting the season 8-5, and needing only to win one of their final three games against Indianapolis, Denver, and Pittsburgh, the Bengals fell to 8-8, and missed the playoffs.
But no one could fault Carson Palmer for the disappointing ending to the season. He was still playing at an elite level, and was put in the conversation along side Tom Brady, Peyton Manning, and Philip Rivers as the best quarterbacks in the league.
The Bengals struggles as a team continued in the 2007 season, where they finished with a losing record (7-9) for the first time with Palmer at quarterback. He threw a career high 4131 passing yards, but also a career high 20 interceptions. He also threw 26 touchdowns. In a week 15 loss to the San Francisco 49ers, Palmer became the 5th fastest player in NFL history to throw 100 touchdown passes.
The real problems for Palmer began in the 2008 season. The Bengals started off slow, going 0-3. Palmer was held to only 99 passing yards and no touchdowns in the season opener against AFC North rivals the Baltimore Ravens. Following loses to the Tennessee Titans and defending Super Bowl Champion New York Giants, Palmer missed a game against the Cleveland Browns due to soreness in his right elbow. The Bengals went on to lose that game as well, falling to 0-4, their worst start since 2002.
It was later discovered that the soreness in Palmer's elbow was caused by a partial tear of a ligament as well as a tendon. Following a week 5 loss to the Dallas Cowboys, Palmer was shelved for the season. But he elected not to have Tommy John surgery to repair the damage, instead allowing his arm to heal naturally.
Palmer was never the same.
The 2009 season started off badly for the Bengals with Palmer throwing two interceptions and no touchdowns in a loss against Denver. However, with a much improved running game lead by newly signed running back Cedric Benson, and a rejuvenated, tough, physical defense, the Bengals were able to bounce back, and sweep their division for the first time in franchise history.
They would finish 10-6 on the year, but were eliminated from the playoffs in the Wild Card round once again, this time by the upstart New York Jets. The season was also marred by tragedy. Bengals defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer's wife Vikki died unexpectedly, and during a domestic dispute wide receiver Chris Henry died when he fell out of the back of a pickup truck.
Palmer's numbers had dropped off considerably, as he threw for just 3094 yards, 21 touchdowns, and 13 interceptions.
The Bengals' stellar running game and rugged defense had covered up Palmer's struggles, and were the main reasons the Bengals were able to make the playoffs and win the AFC North for the second time in four seasons. Expectations were high going into 2010, but the Bengals would fall short yet again.
The season seemed promising enough, with the signing of veteran wide receiver Terrell Owens adding to an already stacked receiving core. He joined longtime Bengals veteran Chad Ochocinco, tight end Reggie Kelly, as well as rookie tight end Jermaine Grisham and rookie wide receiver Jordan Shipley.
There was absolutely no shortage of talent on the offense for the 2010 NFL season. Most fans and analysts expected an increase in production from the Bengals, as they looked to achieve back-to-back winning seasons for the first time since 1982.
Needless to say, the 2010 season has been a disaster for the Bengals. They will finish with their worst record since going 2-14 in 2002. And even though Palmer has thrown for just over 3000 yards and 21 touchdowns with three games still to go, he's also thrown a career high 18 interceptions.
With the offensive line not able to block, and the defense not playing up to last season's standards, the true extent of Palmer's elbow injury is becoming apparent. Most of Palmer's interceptions have been his fault, and many of them have cost the Bengals victories this season. They have been close with teams such as the New Orleans Saints and the Indianapolis Colts, the two teams who played in the Super Bowl last year. However, costly turnovers and a couple stupid penalties lead to losses in both of those games.
Palmer doesn't appear to be able to throw the deep ball anymore. His passing game has become limited. On top of that, his accuracy seems to have dropped off. Granted, you wouldn't know that just by comparing statistics. He finished last season completing 282 of 466 passes for a total of 3094 yards. This season, he has already eclipsed last year, completing 300 of 497 passes for 3187 yards with three games still remaining. He's on pace to throw more picks than touchdowns for the first time in his career. And when watching him make those throws, it becomes obvious that his arm is ailing him.
The best option would be for Palmer to have his arm examined once again, consider various treatment options, and choose the one which is best suited to help his arm fully heal, and see if his production goes back up. He's about to turn 31, so he should still have four or five good years left. But if he continues down his current path, he will eventually be known for being one of the best that could have been.
Palmer is a very likable and respectable player. He is married and has twin children, a boy and a girl. He has strong leadership skills, and works well as the face of the Bengals franchise. But time is ticking for him, and fans are growing ever so impatient.
Palmer will have to find a way to regain his old form if he is to regain the confidence and support of the Bengals team and fans.
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