In the wake of Carson Palmer's performance in the Bengals' come-from-behind 27--26 upset of the Ravens on Sunday, it's safe to say that Cincinnati coach Marvin Lewis will get a break from the constant questioning of his decision to go with the young quarterback this season. The No. 1 pick in last year's draft and Lewis's controversial choice to start ahead of Jon Kitna, Palmer had his best day as a pro, in Baltimore, completing 29 of 36 passes for 382 yards and three touchdowns. With Cincy trailing 20--3 at the start of the fourth quarter, Palmer shredded the NFL's fourth-ranked pass defense for 200 yards and all three TDs, and led an eight-play, 60-yard drive that ended with Shayne Graham's 24-yard game-winning field goal as time expired.
"I think [the win] gives him a big boost of confidence, especially after everyone knocked him about how he reacted in pressure situations," said Bengals tackle Levi Jones. "He hadn't done particularly well, but it wasn't just his fault." The victory also gave Cincinnati (6--6) an outside shot in the AFC playoff race, while dealing a blow to 7--5 Baltimore's postseason hopes.
The comeback was made all the more shocking by the Bengals' poor offensive output through the first three quarters. Looking nothing like the unit that had scored six touchdowns against the Browns the previous week, Cincinnati stumbled early and often--just as it had during the team's 1--4 start, when Palmer averaged only 204.6 passing yards per game and threw eight interceptions and only four touchdown passes.
But beginning with a 23--10 win over the Broncos on Oct. 25, Palmer has appeared far more confident. He has led his team to five wins in seven games by averaging 238.9 passing yards with 12 touchdown tosses versus nine interceptions. Building a rapport with his two primary targets--Pro Bowl wideout Chad Johnson and T.J. Houshmandzadeh--has helped. Both receivers had monster days against the Ravens. Houshmandzadeh's 10 receptions for 171 yards and a touchdown gave him single-season career highs in catches (46) and receiving yards (655); Johnson's 10-catch, 161-yard, two-touchdown game put him on pace for career-high marks of 100 catches and 1,428 yards.
Following their first road victory against a team with a winning record since Dec. 2, 1990, the Bengals head to Foxborough to play the 11--1 Patriots. "It'll be another great challenge for us to stay in this race," said Lewis. "We're back, but we're not over the hump." -- Josh Elliott