From One No. 9 To Another: 'He's Playing At A Much Higher Level Than I Can Remember A Rookie Playing'

Carson Palmer likes Joe Burrow's touch.
Carson Palmer likes Joe Burrow's touch.

Carson Palmer, the last quarterback to take over the Bengals with a Heisman Trophy in one hand and an overall No. 1 pick in the other, is clapping his hands for the next one.

Old No. 9 is a big fan of this No. 9.

After watching Joe Burrow on Sunday do what he never did as a Bengal and rack up his third straight 300-yard game for his first NFL victory, Palmer is looking for more of his records to be broken by The Next One.

"I hope he does and I think he will," Palmer says Tuesday from the good, quiet life in Idaho. "He's playing at a much higher level than I can remember a rookie playing.

"Man, I enjoy watching him play. He's been spectacular … I had high expectations for him like everybody has and through four weeks I think he's exceeded those expectations and played better than anyone had hoped."

Palmer is thinking about Burrow's nine-yard touchdown pass to running back Joe Mixon swinging out of the backfield that tied the game at 10-10 with 56 seconds left in the first half.

"For a young guy, a young guy wants to throw it into the end zone. As a young guy if you don't throw it into the end zone, you feel defeated some times," Palmer says. "But a veteran knows, 'Hey man, I've got a playmaker on the outside that's not going to get tackled one-on-one and I'm going to give him that opportunity to make a play.'

"A veteran move. A veteran decision to throw that ball in a two-minute situation. For him to make that throw and have the trust in the guys around him, he's not a one-year guy."

Palmer, in his third season of retirement, may be living a secluded life but he still can't get enough football. Especially with oldest son Fletch, 11, playing. He can't plow through all the games that interest him.

He checks in on the Buccaneers with his old coach Bruce Arians. He follows his old Cardinals team pulling for the general manager that traded for him, Steve Keim. He loves watching Patrick Mahomes and Deshaun Watson. And Burrow, the man tutored by his brother, quarterback whisperer Jordan Palmer, and leading the franchise he once did.

"I hope he can do what I didn't do," Palmer said. "I love the fans in Cincy. I want them to see their dreams and get what they want. They're as loyal as any fans in the country."

Palmer stepped out of seclusion into controversy at the Super Bowl earlier this year when he re-visited his trade demand from the Bengals nine years ago. But he likes the direction they're headed with Burrow and can see the postseason for them soon.

And his family is still close enough to people from their church, neighborhood, old business associates and hunting buddies that they try to get out here once a year to hunt deer. They're all headed to Cincinnati at the end of the month.

"We love the people out there," said Palmer of his wife and four children. "I asked Fletch if he wanted to play football or go hunt and he said, 'I'm going with you.' And he loves football. I've been dreaming about big Ohio bucks. I love it out there. The cold. The woods. We made the plans six months ago hoping the Covid wouldn't cancel it. It means a lot to us."

Palmer, 40, surfaces this week next to the man he teamed with in the century's first decade to throw a lightning bolt through the NFL from Paul Brown Stadium. Chad Johnson journeyed to Idaho to reminisce with Palmer last Sunday while watching the Bengals beat the Jaguars. It was filmed as part of this week's episode of "The Grind," which features in-depth field reports from former NFL stars and airs Wednesday at 9 p.m. on EPIX.

Part of the program shows Palmer and Johnson Zooming with Burrow and wide receiver Tee Higgins after the game. Get it? The new 9-85 connection meets the old 9-85.

Palmer once threw not only to Johnson, but also to T.J. Houshmandzadeh and Chris Henry. All at the same heady time and he likes what Burrow has at his disposal these days. Particularly Mixon.

FIRST FOUR NFL GAMES

  • Joe Burrow (1-2-1) 116-177, 65.5 percent, 1,121 yards, 6.3 yards per pass, 6 TDs, 2 INTs, 89.7 passer rating
  • Carson Palmer (1-3) 84-154, 55 percent, 875 yards, 5.7 yards per pass, 3 TDs, 7 INTs, 58.7 passer rating

And when Palmer discovered that the Bengals spent a team record in free agency before the opening kickoff when they committed nearly $200 million to new deals for this season and beyond (counting Mixon's extension), that had him almost excited as Burrow's pass to Mixon.

Like everyone else, he wants to see Burrow hit less and stand up more. He's hoping more time together with his line and more moves next offseason can alleviate that. Because he loves what they've got.

"The future is bright," Palmer says. "You've got the two Joes and (wide receivers) Tee and (Tyler) Boyd and A.J (Green) and the young left tackle from Alabama. You've got Geno (Atkins) who is still a great leader and hopefully he's back soon. You throw that big number out to me and that's great they're willing to spend around the young quarterback. Because he's not really a young quarterback."

Palmer took the Bengals to the playoffs in his second season as the starter in 2005 and he thinks Burrow can, too. He doesn't want to write them off this year, but like he said, "You have to slow down when you get excited about a young quarterback next year.

"The Browns are still the Browns. Maybe it's early in the season, but I trust my eyes. You don't know what you've got in Baker (Mayfield), but you know what you've got in Joe. The issue is Baltimore. They can still get in the playoffs next year in the Wild Card if you're the Bengals."

The Bengals have never had a more physically gifted quarterback than Palmer. But Burrow has impressed him with his natural athleticism. He's thinking about the 23-yard quarterback draw for a touchdown in the opener and other runs he's tucked it and gone. He says it's like watching a tailback or a play-making wide receiver run.

Natural.

"He's so much more athletic and faster than you'd expect. When he takes off and runs, people are shocked," Palmer says. "They take bad angles and miss him. He's such a natural ball carrier."

He loves the touch, too: "You saw it Sunday. How many times did he just get it over the linebacker over the middle and in front of the safeties? You don't see him do things like put too much air on it and get the receiver blown up. … He's definitely displayed he can throw people open."

There is that one stat, though. Burrow is just 1-for-22 on balls of at least 20 yards. Palmer says wait until he has a full spring and preseason with his receivers.

"That's not a negative thing. It's easier to throw the digs and comebacks and curls and slants and crossing routes and all that. The deep ball will come," Palmer says. "That's something every young quarterback goes through regardless of where he's drafted or how much speed they have on the outside or what kind of deep threat they have. It just takes time. It just takes repetition."

Palmer says he's never seen a prettier deep ball than the one Burrow uncorked last year at LSU. "But he wasn't getting hit as he threw it. He could step through it."

And then there was the pandemic that wiped out any throwing with his Bengals receivers until late July. When Johnson and Palmer would meet in July in Los Angeles before they went to camp back in the day, Palmer remembers them running 20 go routes a day. That's something that couldn't be done in camp with the season coming up and the threat of tired legs and soft tissue injuries. But they also could throw in March, April, May and June.

"Those will come. He'll find a rhythm with those guys," Palmer said. "The hitch, the pause. When to arc it. When to flatten it … That's another thing. He's done this all without an offseason."

Speaking of his long-ball buddy, the old No. 85, Palmer hadn't seen him in years and loved catching up. They had their moments back in the day like any couple, "but there was always great love and respect there."

Palmer has it just right. He finds Johnson's company "intoxicating," and "fun," and he was mesmerized during the weekend while Johnson kept in constant touch with his kids. A football player at Arizona State. A daughter who is running college track. Another daughter attending UCLA.

"Chad's the best," Palmer says.

Palmer jabbed him a little bit, being respectful of the cameras and went gently. "Who is better? You or A.J. Green?"

"But he was humble," Palmer said. "He said, 'I'm humble.' He's not playing any more. He doesn't need that tough, arrogant, exterior. He's doing great. He's busier now than he ever was. People always want him on their shows."

Palmer looks at the new No. 85 and thinks how lucky Higgins is to be able to watch Green's every move. He sees Boyd, "a playmaker Joe obviously trusts." He's wondering when John Ross can get his game-changing speed on the field. He sees all those big bodies and all that speed and thinks about how Burrow throws all those guys open.

"He doesn't need a big-time No. 1 and a heavily paid No. 2 and a big-time tight end," Palmer says. "You protect that guy and give him a chance to do what he does best, which is throw guys open and throw with accuracy and take off and run, it's exciting what they can build there."

From one No. 9 to another.

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