Old friends with a score to settle

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Andy Dalton's first home win and fourth-quarter comeback came against Ryan Fitzpatrick.

It never used to happen.

Before the Bills' Ryan Fitzpatrick and the Bengals' Carson Palmer met at Paul Brown Stadium on Nov. 21, 2010, a former Bengals starting quarterback had faced his old team just six times in 42 seasons.

One, in fact, took place in the Bengals-Jets series on the road in Jersey when Jets quarterback Boomer Esiason came back to haunt his old mates, 17-12, in 1993.

But thanks to the longevity of Fitzpatrick's career and Mike Brown's highway robbery of the Raiders in the broad daylight of the trading deadline, it is about to happen for the fifth time in the last seven seasons.

When Fitzpatrick leads the Jets into Sunday's opener (1 p.m.-Cincinnati's Channel 12) against the Bengals, it's his third start against the team that gave him 12 starts in Palmer's injury-shortened season of 2008. Since then he's started 90 games for four teams and he's coming off his best season with a franchise-record 31 TD passes that came leading the Jets to a 10-6 record.

How good? The Beard came within 100 yards of breaking the Fu Manchu's franchise record for yards passing, but Joe Willie Namath hung on.

The Bengals have also taken off since Fitzpatrick left for the Bills after the '08 season. Palmer came back healthy in '09 to lead the Bengals to an AFC North sweep and title and began a run in which the Bengals have made the postseason six of the last seven years. Since the Bengals traded Palmer for a first-round and second-rounder in 2011, they haven't missed the postseason under quarterback Andy Dalton.

"For as bad as 2008 was, we went 4-3-1 in the last eight games," said Fitzpatrick this week on a conference call with the Cincinnati media. "I remember seeing a ton of growth with that team. The mentality, everything. I think that carried over into the next year. The continuity there and the coaching staff, even though they've had some guys leave (and) promoted other guys, I think they've really done a nice job of that.  It's a pretty clear message there."

Only three guys are left and as Fitzpatrick recalls, defensive tackle Pat Sims "left and came back." He knows it is just defensive tackle Domata Peko and left tackle Andrew Whitworth. He's made millions since he left and his sixth child is due in March. But those '08 Bengals are close to his heart.

"That was such a huge year of growth for me as a quarterback in my development," Fitzpatrick said. "Even though it wasn't pretty a lot of the time I learned a ton about myself and playing quarterback and I will always be thankful to Marvin (Lewis) for that opportunity and to Coach (Ken) Zampese for all that he taught me."

"That was a really hard year for me with a ton of adversity and a ton of pressure that I put on myself, but being able to work through that year and coming out in a better state of mind mentally and really growing as a quarterback, I knew after that year that I'd be able to be successful in this league. I didn't know if I'd get another chance to start, but I knew if I did that I'd be ready for it."

Fitzpatrick and Palmer still talk. They remain the two biggest pranksters in Bengals history even though no one is virtually around who can remember Palmer losing a bet to Fitzpatrick and then having to travel to the next road game dressed like Dwight of "The Office." In his one matchup with Palmer as a Bengal, Fitzpatrick, the seventh-rounder from Harvard, bested the USC Heisman Trophy winner in a 49-31 shootout for Buffalo in 2010.

Fitzpatrick has only a handshake relationship with Dalton and it came in 2011 after one of the most significant victories for the Green-Dalton Bengals. Dalton engineered his first fourth-quarter comeback when the Bengals erased a 17-3 half-time deficit during his first home win, 23-20 at the gun on Mike Nugent's field goal to knock the Bills from the ranks of the unbeaten.

"From the two years I spent with (Palmer) he really showed me not just on the field, but how to handle yourself off the field and in the meeting rooms and how to take ownership of a team," Fitzpatrick said. ""So I learned a lot from and will always be grateful for that."

Dalton has also split two games with Palmer, beating him as a Raider and losing to him as a Cardinal. On Sunday, Fitzpatrick joins Jeff Blake as the only former Bengals starting quarterback to start against the Bengals three times. Blake won all three, twice as a Raven and once as a Cardinal.

The Bengals are 3-7 against their old QBs. When Dalton beat Fitzpatrick in '11, it was the first win over a former QB since Ken Anderson beat the guy that was drafted to beat him four years later when the Bengals beat Tampa Bay and Jack Thompson in 1983.

Suddenly, Fitzy, 35, who used to scrounge for starts and would run for his life, has been around 12 years and slides more feet first. Not always, but more often. If he's not considered a top tier quarterback, he's certainly considered one of the smartest.

"He's very nifty. And they put him in good position to make plays," said Bengals cornerback Adam Jones. "He's got a lot of big receivers that make his job a little easier. He's a good quarterback. We've got a good challenge on our hands.

"We have to make sure when we blitz and make sure that the pocket, we've got a good couple around him. We just have to make sure we're covering because he's extending the plays a little bit longer than they should be extended … He can still run. You can see that on film."

Fitzpatrick also taught Lewis a lesson in 2008. Even though he wasn't the No. 1 starting quarterback, he impacted his team like that with his personality and demeanor.

  "I think the thing that Ryan did was, once he settled in at quarterback, we got better as a football team," Lewis said. "He settled into the positon. It was no longer Carson Palmer, it was Ryan. He settled down and began to play. It's about taking your time, taking things one play at a time. He has a great command of this offense; he's done great things for Chan Gailey, now in two different stops. That is what you want. The quarterbacks are extensions of the offensive coordinator and play caller. He's comfortable with that, and they've done very well."

A look at the 10 games involving former Bengals starting QBs:

9/25/83 at Tampa Bay; Bengals, 23-13; Ken Anderson def. Jack Thompson

11/21/93 at NY; Jets, 17-12; Boomer Esiason def. David Klingler

12/18/94 at Arizona; Cards, 28-7; Jay Schroeder def. Jeff Blake

11/10/02 at Baltimore; Ravens, 38-27; Blake def. Jon Kitna

12/1/02 Baltimore; Ravens, 27-23; Blake def. Kitna

11/2/03 at Arizona; Cards, 17-14; Blake def. Kitna

11/21/10 Buffalo; Bills, 48-31; Ryan Fitzpatrick def. Carson Palmer

10/2/11 Buffalo; Bengals, 23-20; Andy Dalton def. Fitzpatrick

11/25/12 Oakland; Bengals, 34-10; Dalton def. Palmer

11/22/15 at Arizona; Cards, 34-31; Palmer def. Dalton

 

Cincinnati Bengals 53 Man Roster

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