Palmer's return from injury brings back air of confidence

Cincinnati Bengals

Ravens' afc north rivals

September 07, 2006|By EDWARD LEE

For the first time in nine months, the focus has shifted from Carson Palmer's knee to his arm.

The Cincinnati Bengals quarterback, who injured his left knee during a playoff game against the Pittsburgh Steelers in January, capped a remarkable recovery when he threw three touchdown passes in one half in his return against the Green Bay Packers on Aug. 28.

No one doubted Palmer's skills as he led the NFL with 32 touchdown passes in 2005. But after then-Pittsburgh Steeler Kimo von Oelhoffen rolled into Palmer's knee, tearing two ligaments and dislocating the kneecap, many wondered whether Palmer would be ready for the regular season.

Palmer's performance against the Packers, which included 140 passing yards, an 11-yard scramble and a couple of hard hits in the pocket, convinced coach Marvin Lewis that his quarterback is more than ready to start Sunday against the Kansas City Chiefs.

"Unfortunately, a lot was made of what he's been through," Lewis said last week. "He's our quarterback. He got injured. He's come back from the injury. Now we can move on and quit writing about it."

Palmer's return does not bode well for the rest of the AFC North. With weapons like Palmer, running back Rudi Johnson and receivers Chad Johnson and T.J. Houshmandzadeh, the Bengals offense could improve on last season's No. 6 ranking.

Ravens defensive coordinator Rex Ryan said he's not surprised by Palmer's rapid recovery.

"I'm glad for him, but disappointed for us," Ryan said with a smile. "Obviously, it's a lot easier to play a team with their backup quarterback. But he is a tremendous talent and that's why he was taken with the first pick [in the 2003 draft]."

Passing game

Personnel -- A lot of attention is paid to receiver Chad Johnson (97receptions, 1,432 yards, nine touchdowns last season), who is as dangerous on crossing routes as he is on fly patterns. But fellow wide-out T.J. Houshmandzadeh (78 receptions, 956 yards, seven TDs) is no slouch, and receiver Chris Henry averaged a touchdown catch every five receptions.

Biggest weapon -- Johnson led the AFC in receptions and yards. He has developed a rapport with quarterback Carson Palmer and can be counted on to stretch the field almost as well as he stretches his mouth to yap at opposing defensive backs.

Biggest concern -- The Bengals lack a credible threat at tight end (Reggie Kelly had only 15 catches last season), and running back Chris Perry (51 receptions, 328 yards) is on the physically-unable-to-perform list because of knee and ankle injuries.

Ravens defensive coordinator Rex Ryan says -- "They've got tremendous personnel, and it starts with their quarterback. He can put it out there with the best of them. They're loaded at receiver with Houshmandzadeh and Johnson and Chris Henry. They've got good backs that can catch the ball. That's one of the toughest passing games to attack."

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