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Palmer follows script

Carson Palmer

The boos might as well be rubber bullets the way they were bouncing off Bengals quarterback Carson Palmer in the final 2:28 Sunday.

That's how fast it can turn, can't it? One more first down and Palmer knows he would have been showered with adulation for the 12th fourth-quarter comeback victory of his career, the Bengals' seventh straight Paul Brown Stadium victory, and a crucial third win of an up-an down five-game season.

Maybe that's why he doesn't care about the boos and deflects them so easily. He knows they just as easily could have been cheers. If this team is going to implode, it's not because the franchise quarterback goes off script.

"He's been there before," said backup quarterback Jordan Palmer. "Yeah, it bothers me more than it does him, I'm sure. I'm his brother. But that's the kind of thing that motivates him even more than he already is."

The boos flooded PBS when Palmer threw two interceptions that led to 10 points for Tampa Bay's 24-21 win even though it is debatable that neither were his fault. But the script calls for a franchise quarterback to take the blame and on Sunday he did. And on Wednesday he followed the script again when he chimed in during an offensive meeting about paying attention to detail and focusing on the little things after offensive coordinator Bob Bratkowski addressed the group with a similar theme.

That's what franchise quarterbacks are supposed to do when the season is hanging in the balance and the team is looking at a four-day break for the bye.

"He was good. He doesn't do that a lot, but he was reinforcing what Brat was saying," said left tackle Andrew Whitworth. "That's one of the reasons he means so much to this team. I said this before the season began and I'll say it again: There's no other quarterback in the league I'd rather be protecting than Carson Palmer."

Carson Palmer shrugged Wednesday. He agreed. It probably is the first time in his seven seasons as a starter that the fans have come after him. They booed him when he ran off the field. And if that wasn't enough, they booed the scoreboard announcing his 20,000th passing yard.

"I didn't even know until my mom told me after the game; I was focused on what was going on," Palmer said. "My folks were at the game and they feel it. It definitely affects them more than it affects me. But like I said, I've been through this before."

USC. Early on. But not during his senior season. Not during the Heisman Trophy season.

"The first couple of years we were booed as a team and I've been booed individually. Things changed after awhile and I expect the same thing to happen," he said. "I don't really care. I care what my teammates expect of me and I care about what they think of me because they're my teammates and that's what matters to me. But as far as fans booing or saying something, it's not going to affect me."

If he didn't hear them, his teammates heard them. Or at the very least like Palmer, heard about them.

"I heard about it; that's not cool," said left guard Bobbie Williams. "You know what? That guy right there deserves some claps, not boos and when you boo him you boo everyone in this organization. Every player. Not one player, but every player. He's too much of a stand-up guy. I'd go to war with him every day. Every day."

Of course, the fans booed the franchise quarterbacks before him. Bengals radio analyst Dave Lapham remembers in 1979 when fans cheered an injury to Pro Football Hall of Fame candidate Ken Anderson that forced him from a game. There were the catcalls as Boomer Esiason stumbled through a 42-7 loss to Minnesota in 1992.

"Things never change. The quarterback gets the brunt of it when things are going bad," said Lapham, who was Anderson's road roommate. "There are things going on that may look like they are his fault, but they're not. I know it affected Kenny. He cared what people thought about him."

Palmer, and teammates too, expect him to get it even if it's not his fault.

"It's unfortunate. Nobody wants to have the booing going on at a player," said running back Cedric Benson. "Sometimes it's easy for it to appear for things, like Carson being a leader; it's easy for a lot of things to get pointed in his direction.

"I can't imagine – if he even noticed it – how he must feel if he noticed it. I am sure the fans are eager for a lot of production and it's important they understand it's an 11-player game, the defense is formulated with 11 players. Everybody's got to do their job to show up to get the best outcome on each play."

Wide receiver Chad Ochocinco dropped one of the final two interceptions and Bratkowski didn't put full blame on Palmer on the other one, the throw over the middle to wide receiver Terrell Owens. He left it at only "a miscommunication."

But the picks go in Palmer's column. The boos go to No. 9.

"It doesn't matter. I'm the first to say if I throw an interception, it's my fault," Palmer said. "It doesn't matter all the extra things that happen on an individual play. When you're the quarterback, you're expected not to throw them, especially in tight games or games where you can't throw one. I did and I take the heat for that and I'm going to do everything I can not to do it next week and the week after and the week after."

He apparently made the right read on the play, even though ESPN's Trent Dilfer claimed Palmer should have checked down to tight end Jermaine Gresham and taken the punt on third-and-13.

"I look at every play and I have certain places I go that I'm coached to go with reads," Palmer said. "And I'm going to those places. Because that's the best place to go. If I make the wrong read, I'll tell you. But on that play, I didn't throw it to a place I wasn't supposed to. The guy made a good play and I threw the ball too far inside. As far as some guys being open on one play or the next, I'll look at the film and I always judge my decision-making with my coach after we watch the film together. Find out which plays I need to make better decisions on and plays I was right."

If taking the heat for everyone else isn't enough, or stepping up in meetings isn't enough, the franchise quarterback also has to be the spokesman for the offense. And for this offense, that means taking wave upon wave of questions wondering if the team has lost its smashmouth identity.

The Bengals ran to the AFC North title last season as the offensive line adjusted to the massive overhaul of four players in new spots and the passing game coped without T.J. Houshmandzadeh. Now Palmer is the trigger man of an offense that seeks balance with a more experienced line and three new receivers in Owens, Gresham and rookie wide receiver Jordan Shipley. Throw in the return of injured tight end Reggie Kelly and Palmer's point is it isn't last year.

"We're just as comfortable throwing on a team to win as we are running the ball to win, so I don't think an identity is a necessity. I think it depends on the game plan and the opponent at hand," Palmer said.

"We had a running identity. We were going to run the ball to win football games and we did. (But) every year is different. There are four, five new guys playing now than there were last year. Four guys. That's almost a quarter of the offense that's different. You can't compare one year to the next. There's too much turnover in this league. There's draft picks, there's free agents, injuries, there's just too many things. Too many variables that can change. Week in, week out. Year in, year out."

The identity debate is a hard one to get your arms around because it's not a yes or no question or a multiple choice answer. Williams had to invoke the "Marvin Lewis Rule," which is his warning to players, "Don't try to explain it" to the media. But, in the end, Williams says the identity is to complement the run and pass, and vice versa, which is what Bratkowski has been saying.

"You have to have an identity," Williams said. "And ours? You tell me ... one complements the other and one sets up the other. It's basic football. Last week we ran the ball. It feels good, but we've got to do that every week. It just can't be against Tampa Bay, a game we lost. But it has to be against the next 11 teams."

And some guys, like Benson, think the identity debate is worthless.

"I think execution is important. Trying to figure out your identity is just a ploy to distract you from what you really need to be focused on," Benson said. "What's called is what's called. You practice it all week, go out there and execute. It's a simple formula; I think it's pretty simple to do. Everybody's in this locker room or on this team for a reason. We just need to go out there and kick some butt, that's all."

And, just like the script says, the franchise quarterback is in the middle of it all.

"Like I said," Palmer said. "I've been here before."

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