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Palmer, Chad won't begin to forget finish

Posted: 6:25 p.m.



MIAMI, Fla. - Caught in the vortex of the Super Bowl blitz Wednesday, Carson Palmer looked like a man in the dentist's chair as he moved from microphone to microphone.

On the other hand, Chad Johnson looked like the dentist as he gleefully flossed his entertainer M.O. from radio to television to satellite during a late-morning 9 route through Radio Row here during Super Bowl week.

Palmer was here to defend his title as Fed Ex Air Player of the Year, but watched Saints quarterback and fellow rehab miracle Drew Brees win it. Johnson was just here. The kid with the Ali boasts had to be in the Miami Beach Convention Center, where Cassius Clay first won the heavyweight title.

About the only thing Palmer and Johnson share is a gnawing frustration that the Bengals could have easily been here before the worst finish since Seinfeld cost them the last three games and the playoffs.

"(Bleep). I've kind of let it go now," Johnson said. "If we handled our business earlier in the season like we should have, we wouldn't have had to rely on those last three games. We can't do that."

Palmer, wearing a tie for the first time since the day he was drafted nearly four years ago, dressed down his team's stretch performance.

"It's probably the most frustrating thing," Palmer said of the December timber. "We had a chance to be 11-5 and we had an even better chance to be 10-6 and be the third, fourth, or fifth seed in the playoffs. Now we're watching some of these other teams play, a team like Kansas City that we beat and felt like we were better than get a chance to be in the playoffs. It hurts. Hopefully everybody learned their lesson."

If Palmer, the Pro Bowl quarterback who prefers to be the lunch bucket workingman living next door, is uncomfortable in the suit of fame, he's certainly fitting into his role as team leader. In front of the bright lights of the Fed Ex ceremony, he reiterated his disgust with the nine arrests. Later, as an admiring line of gawkers validated his position as one the NFL's top five players while he moved from NFL Network to SIRIUS Radio to Sporting News Radio, he again invoked the image of the Patriots.

"I hope everybody on our team saw that game. It's a true example of the best teams win," said Palmer of New England's win over the Chargers in the playoffs. "The New England Patriots against the San Diego Chargers. It's not even close talent-wise. It comes down to coaching. One of the most important things is coaching and the second is guys taking that playbook and taking what they taught and executing it on the field.

"You can't just win on talent. We (can't say) we don't need to work as hard or we don't need to prepare as hard because we're more talented than this team."

This is where Palmer picks up the leadership gauntlet and Johnson doesn't. In fact, Johnson said he'll gladly let Palmer take that role. But he's not certain about the criticism drilling his team for lack of unity.



"This is my take on what a team is," Johnson said. "You've got 11 people on the field and each person has an individual role, right? When each one of these individuals does the job right, you're working as a team.

"It's like an engine. When you crank an engine, you've got all those different parts of the engine working cranking all at the same time. Same goes with us. When you line up and play, that's your team. They put too much philosophy in this stuff. It's easy. You go out there and do your job. Each individual. When they do it right, it all works."

Johnson continues to insist the off-field problems aren't a distraction, although several of his teammates have disagreed this offseason. He says most of the problems have been relegated to the offseason.

But in a snatch of an interview with SIRIUS he allowed, "We have to be consistent on and off the field."

He also said that he believes head coach Marvin Lewis is going to make changes for the better and that those changes are probably going to involve players.

"It (was) just our year. Last year was the Vikings' year," he said of the string of arrests. "Next year it could be somebody else. When you have as many people in the NFL, 1,500, 1,600 players, it's hard to keep everybody out of trouble."

Palmer defended Lewis on stage at a ceremony chaired, ironically, by former Bengals quarterback Boomer Esaison a day after Esiason applauded Palmer's efforts to provide leadership.

"A lot is being put on Marvin Lewis. A lot is being put on the leaders of our team," Palmer said. "There's really nothing Marvin can do in the offseason. He can't put a curfew on guys and he can't call guys every single night and make sure they're in bed and not running around. It's something that's tarnished our organization and gives us a bad rap and it's something we're not proud of.

"I think Coach Lewis is going to put in some new rules and techniques to get guys at the right time in the right place doing the right thing. From here on out it's guys just making better decisions. Life is about making right decisions, being a better person for it and I think our guys and our organization are going to take care of that."

Esiason noted Palmer's stats wryly with, "Those are better than anything I ever did in Cincinnati," and saluted Palmer and Brees for coming back from injuries that many felt would keep them out of at least the early season. But both played in all 16 games and went to the Pro Bowl.

Before the ceremony, Palmer compared notes with Brees and found a lot of similarities.

"It was a long year. Same with Drew. It sounds like he did what I did," said Palmer, who had a reconstructed knee while Brees had major shoulder surgery. "I had surgery and went to rehab the next day. ... He had a pitch count at (training camp) and I was on the same thing. I was limited. I slowly built myself up to go through a whole practice."

Palmer thanked his trainers and doctors, and said he looked forward to having a full spring and summer working on his mechanics and with his receivers. He said that was a hindrance, but wouldn't say it was an excuse for his inconsistent play, compared to last year. But he also said in the same breath, "I need reps."

So with an offseason that won't be off for Palmer, Johnson's response of "Happy times, no bad times," may be how it ends up working out. Palmer has rested his bruised throwing shoulder and says he's 100 percent for next week's Pro Bowl.

On Wednesday, the Bengals Odd Couple were looking for each other in the convention center.

Johnson was saying, "No one calls me 'Chad' anymore. It's Ocho. They love it."

Meanwhile, one of Palmer's handlers told him he was done on Radio Row and that he could leave. There seemed to be a hint of a smile and a loose tie.

They were speaking his language.

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