Hobson's Choice: Carson Comeback

Hi Geoff, like many other Bengals fans, I was concerned when Carson Palmer missed the final three games of the season. When he got injured against the Patriots he was on the top of his game and playing his best football. What concerns me now is his progression in his third year within the Bengals system and his second year as starting quarterback as a result of his subsequent injury. In other words do you feel his injury has in any way hampered his development going into the season?

More specifically, how has he recovered from the injury while attempting to progress further within this system and as an NFL quarterback? I truly have no doubt in his ability to bounce back from a relatively simple injury and prognosis, however, I am fully aware of how vital he is to the team's chances for success this season. I'm just wondering how his off-season is going and how much time was needed to recover from his knee injury. Also, what do you think Carson needs to improve on to help lead this team to the playoffs?

** David T., Bowie, Maryland

As Pro Bowl right tackle Willie Anderson said this week, "I forgot Carson was hurt. He's scrambling and moving around back there." There are no signs of that sprained knee ligament incurred by that one-man wrecking crew, Patriots defensive lineman Richard Seymour. Seymour was also involved in the play that knocked center Rich Braham out for the season in the same game.

Palmer, hurt Dec. 12, was cleared to run, ironically enough, the week Seymour and Co., ran amuck against the Eagles in the Super Bowl. After living through the punishment of his first 13 NFL starts, Palmer felt his body is strong enough to play at 230 pounds. So he dropped 20 and guys like Anderson have been taking about how quick he looks moving in and out of the pocket. When he started moving out of the pocket last year, he became much more effective, so look for more of it.

If he keeps playing with any kind of semblance of his last six starts (13 TDs, eight picks, with the club averaging 27 points and 381 yards), they will go to the playoffs. But Palmer has to stay away from the bad, game-changing mistake that marred the two losses in that stretch:

An interception return for a touchdown by Steelers linebacker James Farrior that Palmer threw into triple coverage and an intentional grounding call he took in the end zone for a safety that accounted for nine Pittsburgh points in the Bengals' 19-14 loss. Plus Patriots cornerback Asante Samuel's 34-yard interception return for a touchdown on a simple out route that was the margin of the 35-28 loss in New England.

But he'll be better and smarter the second time around and, more importantly, every offensive starter is back from that stretch. So they should be better, too. That means there is the same offensive line that allowed just six sacks in those six games, the same T.J. Houshmandzadeh that had the second greatest back-to-back games ever by a Bengals' receiver with a total of 316 against Baltimore and New England in the last two games of that run, the same Chad Johnson that caught two touchdowns in the 24-point fourth quarter in Baltimore, and the same Rudi Johnson that rushed for 202 yards in the Points Fest win over Cleveland that began the run of three straight games of at least 453 yards..

If Palmer can cut down on those 18 interceptions, it's hard to see the Bengals losing those games they win on the stat sheet but lose on the scoreboard. He can't do it by himself, and they have made certain he's surrounded.

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