The Bengals defense just didn't welcome back Carson Palmer to Paul Brown Stadium on Sunday. It used him as the welcome mat in its A-tkins to Z-immer complete 34-10 victory over the Raiders and the team's former franchise quarterback that wafted straight out of a defensive coordinator's dream.
"I don't mean to sound arrogant or cocky or anything, but they just didn't have a chance when they stepped into the stadium," said safety Chris Crocker, who had Sunday's lone pick. "You could see it from the start. We were so much more aggressive. We were more tenacious. I just think they couldn't match our level of intensity.
"We lulled in the third quarter, but we felt like we had a good game plan. If we could get around Carson, it was going to be a good day."
While Palmer said all the right things after the game, the Bengals did all the right things during a game they hit Palmer 13 times, according to the Bengals Radio Network, while stifling the Raiders on 119 net passing yards. It was Cincinnati's best outing against the pass since the 2010 season finale in Baltimore, which, of all things, was Palmer's final game as a Bengal.
"They gave me a couple of different looks, but they're so good up front, you don't need to change much," Palmer said. "You don't fix what's not broken. We knew we had our hands full with those guys. They're really good pass rushers and really good in the run game too. They've done it all year and will continue to do it for the rest of the year."
It looked the like the Bengals mixed it up with their feared four-man rush, and more-than-usual blitzes from safety Reggie Nelson and cornerback Adam Jones.
"We gave him multiple looks and I just think it all came down to execution," said defensive tackle Domata Peko.
Get around Palmer, indeed.
"We knew they were going to air it out and we knew we couldn't give Carson time," said defensive tackle Geno Atkins, who continues to be unstoppable with one more sack at just the right time. "Get in his face, make him hold it longer than he wants. … If the defensive line can dominate, good things can happen."
Atkins made it happen right away on the game's third snap when he blew up a screen with an earth-shaking sack of the unblocked Palmer. When right end Michael Johnson sacked him two snaps later, the game was on.
Late in the first half, it was Johnson's hit on Palmer that made him alter his throw to fullback Marcel Reece over the middle. It was off just enough that it bounced off Reece's hands back into Crocker's arms with eight seconds left and his 23-yard return set up Mike Nugent's franchise-tying 55-yard field goal.
"The first series, those two sacks set the tone," Crocker said. "It was like, 'It's going to be a long day for you buddy if you keep dropping back.' "
Defenders were everywhere, not just up front. Nelson, playing for the first time since injuring his hamstring two weeks ago against the Giants, had two quarterback hits and six tackles. The three corners, Leon Hall, Terence Newman and the blossoming Adam Jones, combined for four passes defensed. The wide receivers had just one catch of at least 20 yards and it was for only 20 yards. Backs and tight ends accounted for 15 of Palmer's 19 completions.
"There's not a whole lot of time to throw the ball against that front four," Palmer said. "They're as good of a front four as there is in the game. You don't want to throw into coverage, and the guys that had one-on-one were the underneath guys."
As always, Palmer kept it classy. After the game in the other locker room he wouldn't delve into why he demanded a trade in the days after the 2010 implosion of 4-12 despite four years and $50 million left on his contract.
"I'm not going to talk about what went down," he said, admitting he heard the boos. "You obviously hear it, but I had prepared myself for it and knew what I was coming into.
"Anytime you go into an opposing stadium, you're going to get booed. That's what home teams do. Obviously it was a little bit louder and a little bit longer, but that's part of going on the road."
It didn't seem personal to most of the men in the other locker room. What meant more than beating Palmer was watching the fruits of the relentless pass rush teamed with the exhaustive coverage that has carried the Bengals back into the playoff race during this three-game winning streak in which they've allowed just two touchdowns.
"If we play like this," Peko said, "we're a tough team and a tough defense to beat."
Crocker agreed it was all business out there.
"There was no bitterness. I think Carson just felt like he could do no more good in Cincinnati and he had to leave he way he had to leave. That's just the business of the game and sometimes you're not going to leave on a good note," Crocker said. "From a fan's standpoint it was more upsetting because they really backed him. They stayed with him through the good times and bad times."
During the week, Palmer called Atkins an NFL Defensive MVP candidate, and they briefly spoke before and after the game.
"When he was here, I thought he was a good guy, good teammate," said Atkins, who said his rushes weren't fueled by animosity.
There still could be some hard feelings. Left tackle Andrew Whitworth, one of the most reliable guys of Palmer's mercurial Bengals offenses, didn't try to say hello before or after the game.
"Sweet victory for us and we move forward," Whitworth said. "The story of the game is for the third straight week we came out and played like we're supposed to play."
A bit of a chill. But then again, Crocker didn't find time to talk to Palmer before or after the game, either.
"I didn't want to rub it in. I'll see him in the offseason," Crocker said. "(Before), there's nothing to talk about. It's business. We're here to play football and we sent him home."
Business, as they say, is business.