The work is paying off. In Cincinnati's first two wins this year, Palmer torched Cleveland (280 yards, two TDs, one INT) and Minnesota (337 yards, three TDs, one pick). Against a stingy Chicago defense in Week 3, he had three more scoring passes. Still, Bengals coaches know not to ask too much of him yet. In practice they constantly watch to see which plays he's uncomfortable running and keep them out of that week's game plan. On Fridays before games, Palmer is required to give Bratkowski a list of plays he'd like to run in specific situations, and Bratkowski makes it a priority to call those plays.
All the extra work is meant to ensure that Palmer doesn't rely too much on his physical skills, as many young QBs do. "He has that laser arm," Lewis says, "and there are times when he still thinks he can throw the ball through people. He has had two interceptions this season, and they were both his fault. So we constantly remind him that six points count the same whether he throws it in or we get it another way."
Palmer will need that assistance as he faces tougher defenses--including Jacksonville's, Pittsburgh's and Baltimore's over the next five weeks--but he's gaining confidence with each game. Indeed, Norm Chow, his offensive coordinator at USC who's now with the Titans, recently left a voice mail on Palmer's cellphone reminding him to "make sure his helmet still fits."
Nobody around the Bengals expects Palmer to get too full of himself. Even after Sunday's win he hid behind a row of television production trucks outside the locker room to avoid fans who were lingering in the parking lot. Before leaving, Palmer talked about all the things he still needs to work on. "The best thing about Carson is that he realizes he's not a finished product," Bratkowski says. "With the run he's been on, some guys in his position would think they've arrived. Carson understands that he's really just getting started."