We jump into the middle of the Carson Palmer debate with two former NFL quarterbacks that combined for a total of 305 NFL starts.
But first, let's make it clear that if running back Bernard Scott doesn't get pushed back into Palmer's arm on the next-to-last play of Sunday's first quarter in Carolina, there would have been no debate this week. Palmer's arm would have come through on a 68-yard touchdown pass for Terrell Owens' first score as a Bengal in a game the Bengals win, say, 24-7.
Add the 68-yarder and Owens would have finished with five catches for 110 yards and used his Wednesday news conference to announce President Obama is going on The T.O and Ocho Show. Palmer would have gone 20-for-37 for 268 yards with two TDs and an interception (instead of the other way around) for a passer rating of 83.5 and this week he would have been appearing on a box of Wheaties with a phone number connected to the Jim Rome Show and a season load of Jungle Karma.
And the big debate would have been the running game's 3.2 yards per carry.
Ah, how the world can change.
But Scott, who has been very good protecting the passer this year, did get pushed back and the ball got picked and here we are.
Are we seeing the impact of Palmer' 2006 torn ACL in his knee? The 2008 small tear in the ulnar collateral ligament of his throwing elbow?
An empathic no from two guys that should know.
Norman Julius Esiason, the man Bengaldom knows as Boomer, doesn't see anything physically wrong with the man whose two AFC North titles match his two AFC Central titles. Esiason, a CBS-TV studio analyst, says a couple of back-to-back strong halves is all it takes to revive the Bengals passing game.
Rich Gannon, who went 11 years between beating the Bengals with Esiason and Jon Kitna, says he sees none of the symptoms of a bad knee, balky elbow, or messed-up mechanics. Gannon, a CBS-TV analyst who has called the last two Bengals games, has broken down all 122 Palmer passes this season.
"I've looked at his mechanics and I don't see a lot of change. He's still throwing the ball with velocity," he says. "I don't see any indications of the things you see with bad mechanics. He's not looking at the rush. He's not bailing out. He's not shortening his stride. His lower body looks to be fine. I don't see a guy laboring to get the ball out there."
That said, Esiason and Gannon also don't think Palmer is near the top of his game.
"That's not the Carson Palmer I know," Esiason said. "He looks like he's lacking confidence back there in the pocket. I'm not there every day, so I don't know why that is. I don't know if it's the new receivers, or the protection, or what, but you wonder what is going on."
Esiason says he's not the only one. As he sits with Dan Marino, Bill Cowher and Shannon Sharpe, they are all struggling to put a finger on it.
Just back from Monday night's radio call of the Bears win over the Packers, Esiason was still raving about the technically-sound movements of Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers and how he's not seeing it from Palmer.
"This is a guy that not long ago was right there with (Tom) Brady and (Drew) Brees and I think these two games coming up he's got a chance to regain that confidence," Esiason says.
"I look at his decision-making and accuracy," Gannon says, "and I think there are some reasons to explain his (lack of) accuracy because the majority of the time they're running three-receiver sets. Look at who they've got there. A guy that didn't get there until the start training camp (wide receiver Terrell Owens) and two rookies (tight end Jemaine Gresham and wide receiver Jordan Shipley).
"I'm sure a part of it is getting used to the new players. Finding out what they do and how they do it. That's a big part."
What caught Gannon's eye is what he calls "indecision," such as Palmer's first interception of the game on the third play, a routine in cut to The Ocho, a ball they've completed in their sleep.
"When you have a play like that with two guys that have been together for eight years, that's surprising," he said.
Gannon is impressed by the amount of responsibility Palmer has at the line of scrimmage, but he also wonders if the coaches might have too much going on for him, as well as for the first-year players.
But both guys think he can rebound. And Palmer does have his supporters. He was throwing a heavy, wet ball Sunday and he's trying to get in sync with his second straight revamped receiving corps. Last year every defense knew he had just one receiver, he didn't gripe when they asked him to run the ball and keep them close so he could win it late. So he engineered three fourth-quarter comebacks to turn 7-9 into 10-6 and a title.
"No one doubts this guy's physical skills," Esiason says. "But I can't tell you how much it means for a quarterback to have confidence. It's everything."
Esiason says he rebounded from moments he had his crisis of confidence and he thinks Palmer will, too.
"I had my Dave Shula sightings. I had my Reggie Rembert sightings," he says. "I had young coaches. And I'm not saying these are any of his problems. I'm just saying every quarterback goes through losing confidence, for whatever reason."
Gannon is well versed in injury. After he tore his rotator cuff he returned to play nine more seasons while winning 56 games and throwing for 137 touchdowns. After talking to Palmer about his elbow and watching him throw, he's convinced it's not a factor.
"He'll be fine," says Gannon, working his third straight Bengals game in Cleveland this Sunday on Cincinnati's Channel 12.