Thursday, February 7, 2008

The Quarterback Quiz: Cincinnati Bengals

(Otherwise known as the Felons Capital of the NFL!) Also, is it a bad thing that I occasionally get Carson Palmer and Carson Kressley mixed up? I swear that's no slur on your part, Mr. Palmer -- just the result of an overloaded brain. Note to self: Palmer is heir to the Boomer Esiason tradition, while Kressley likes a different kind of boomers. Okay, now that's all over with (and sincerely, no offense meant to any party intimated, you should have learned by now that I'm odd) let's get with it.

Cincinnati Bengals (7-9): Carson Palmer

Although not, to the best of my knowledge, a gay fashion makeover expert (not that there's anything wrong with that) Carson the First has much to recommend him to those of a pigskin-loving bent. He got his start at USC, where he struggled through three mostly underwhelming years before taking off in his senior year under the stewardship of guru Norm Chow. This resulted in him winning the Heisman Trophy, the fifth Trojan to do so and only the first Trojan quarterback until Matt Leinart stole his thunder in 2004. During his award-winning season, Palmer threw for 309 completions in 489 attempts (63% rate) 3,942 yards, 33 TD, and 10 INT, and he led the Trojans to a victory over Iowa in the Orange Bowl, 38-17. A double-major in public policy and management (probably good skills for a quarterback to have...) Carson was rewarded for his hard work by being selected first overall by the Bengals in the 2003 draft.

He spent his first year as the backup to Jon Kitna, then the Bengals' starter, but had shown enough and impressed the management to enough of a degree that he was named the starter in January 2004. In starting 13 games, Palmer showed considerable but still unrefined talent, as he threw for 18 TDs, 18 INT, 263/432 (60.9 percentage/77.3 rating) and 2,987 yards; it wasn't until the next year that he took off. Palmer skippered the Bengals to an 11-5 record in 2005 and their first division title in fifteen years. All of this was done with some impressive personal numbers -- he led the NFL in completion percentage (67.8) was fourth in yards (3,836) owned a 101.1 passer rating at season's end, and set a franchise record with 32 touchdown passes against only 12 interceptions. He was voted to the Pro Bowl for his efforts, but did not play due to a severe knee injury sustained against the Steelers in the wild-card playoffs. The injury was bad enough that there were some questions about if he'd even play again, but Palmer threw himself into his rehabilitation and was ready to go when 2006 opened. In fact, he missed only one snap all year in recording a 62.3 CP, 4,035 yards, 28 TD/13 INT, and a 93.9 rating -- the only bugaboo was that he fumbled 15 times and the Bengals couldn't replicate last year's success, falling to 8-8. However, he was again named to the Pro Bowl and even got to play in it, earning MVP honors for guiding the AFC to a win. (Not as if this matters very greatly, but it's a nice feather in his cap).

2007 was an up-and-down season for Palmer and the Bengals. Aside from the fact that half the team was either in the police station or the county court at any given point (something which is not new to Cincinnati) they had only a 2-5 record by Week 8 and Palmer was leading the conference in interceptions. Still, he again started every game, had a 64.9 CP, 4,131 yards, an 86.7 record, and 26 TDs -- unfortunately his 20 INT were a career high and the Bengals finished with a losing record for the first time since Palmer took over the reins. Still, in five years, he's set franchise records for most completions, touchdown passes, passing yards, and passer rating in a season, along with most TD passes for a game and the highest passer rating for any Bengals QB. On January 30 of this year, the Bengals signed his younger brother Jordan, also a QB, to be his backup -- something that will surely engender plenty of playful sibling rivalry and good-natured competitions. However, although Palmer junior was a UT-El Paso standout, there isn't much of a chance he'll be unseating his older brother for the starting job behind center for the Felons -- er, Bengals. I'm sure they'll get a lot of mileage out of it in the meantime, though.

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