A week after hauling in 124 receiving yards against San Diego, Jerome Simpson went for 123 vs. Baltimore.
BALTIMORE - At times you wonder if Bengals quarterback Carson Palmer wants come back to Bengaldom after this miserable season.
But before he walked into his postgame news conference Sunday following the 13-7 loss to the Ravens, he told his new favorite target to get ready for next year.
"He told me, 'Rome, get back to work in the offseason. We're going to tear things up next year,' " said wide receiver Jerome Simpson after his second straight 100-yard game for 123 yards on 12 catches. "I'm going to head out to Cali for a couple of weeks and work with him because I want to try and get better and try to make the team better."
At least Palmer has to like the sound of Simpson coming out to play catch with him in California. He hasn't been able to work out with the man that Simpson has replaced very often in the offseason lately. And it took Simpson three starts to do what it took Chad Ochocinco 90 starts to do and catch a dozen balls in a game.
Simpson was one shy of Carl Pickens' club record, but absolutely sick about his fumbles that came after two of them. Yet for those that wondered if he could produce against a complex, physical defense and bounce back from adversity, Simpson provided a definitive answer when he raced by cornerback Lardarius Webb for an 11-yard touchdown catch on what is fast becoming his patented fade route. That cut Baltimore's lead to 13-7 with 12:24 left and came after he handed the Ravens their only touchdown that gave them a 13-0 lead following his fumble on the Bengals 28.
Simpson also shook loose for a 19-yard catch and got out of bounds with 33 seconds left that put the ball on the Ravens 11.
"I would trade two of (the catches) for the two fumbles," he said. "I apologize to the team and the city ... I had to respond and show my teammates I'm never ever going to give up. I had to get us back in the game because I cost us some points. I was going to do anything I could to make the catch for a touchdown. I told myself I was about to get in the end zone."
Or, as he calls it, "The 'Rome Zone." Simpson said he beat Webb to the back pylon "and Carson put it in the designated area he throws it to," which is high enough for the 6-2 Simpson's leaping ability to snare it from a defender.
"Jerome really showed me something today after his fumble," Palmer said. "He has a short memory, and he came back and stayed focused and made some big plays."
The killing fumble came with 7:55 left in the third quarter and the Bengals down, 6-0. Palmer had just fumbled a snap and was looking at a second-and-12 from his 18. He hit Simpson on a quick throw at the line of scrimmage and when Simpson tried to get out of cornerback Chris Carr's leg tackle, the ball flew out of the crook in his arm and tackle Haloti Ngata recovered at the Bengals 28. Five plays later running back Ray Rice scored on a 10-yard run.
"I've got to hold on to the ball because I don't think anybody hit me," Simpson said. "It just came out as I was trying to get more yards after the catch."
His first fumble in the second quarter didn't hurt because on the next snap safety Reggie Nelson punched the ball out of the hands of wide receiver Donte Stallworth after a 15-yard reverse. Simpson had made a 21-yard play after he caught a slant heading over the middle and as he broke into the clear Carr raked it out from behind.
"I saw an opening," Simpson said. "As soon as I was ready to bring it down and tuck it, he came up around me and I felt the ball just pop out."
Simpson and wide receiver Andre Caldwell didn't come close to doing what The Ocho and T.J. Houshmandzadeh did here six years ago in a fourth quarter Palmer threw for 200 yards in a 27-26 comeback win. But they were big in the last 45 seconds when Palmer drove the Bengals from the their 31. Caldwell got the big one, a 39-yarder running behind Webb, and he made a gutty nine-yard catch over the middle at the 2 with 19 seconds left and held on when middle linebacker Ray Lewis popped him.
On third-and-two, Caldwell thought he was going to repeat history. It was last year here where his 20-yard touchdown catch with 22 seconds left beat the Ravens.
"I thought I was going to do it again," Caldwell said, who got behind Webb again on a fade. "But he did a good job getting his hands on me."
Palmer led Caldwell a little too far to the back of the end zone, but he admitted that Simpson and Caldwell are making the game fun. For the second time in three games, Caldwell set a career high for yards with 94 and his seven catches Sunday were a career high.
"It's been a blast," Palmer said. "They are so energetic, and they are so excited. They want to be great players. They have the talent and mental makeup and speed to play in this game."
As if to underscore the transition in the Bengals passing game, Houshmandzadeh, the last Bengal to catch 12 balls in a game (Nov. 16, 2008 against the Eagles) and the man who has done it the most (four) was on the other side catching two balls for the Ravens. He hugged head coach Marvin Lewis after it was over and Lewis later gave Simpson some love.
"The best thing about it, is that Jerome has been able to play through this stuff now," Lewis said. "You've got to be excited about him. I was just standing out there and watching him during practice on Friday and watching Carson speaking with him and everything. And it's like he's the No. 1 pick, and it's so fun to see. And it's like you're going to be going through a little bit of growing pains, but there's no one who's going to work harder than him. And I believe stay grounded through it, which is going to be key."