Bengals' Palmer is all the way back

October, 25, 2009
10/25/09
10:45
PM ET
 
  Frank Victores/US Presswire
 Cincinnati quarterback Carson Palmer put together one of the best performances of his career Sunday against the Bears.
Posted by ESPN.com’s James Walker

CINCINNATI -- Warming up on the sideline, Bengals quarterback Carson Palmer threw an errant pass that slipped through the fingertips of teammate Chad Ochocinco.
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When the ball proceeded to hit a bystander, the receiver quickly pointed to his quarterback and said it was Palmer’s fault the unsuspecting person was plunked in the back.

That pass didn’t count, but the Chicago Bears probably wished that it had. It was the only poor throw Palmer made all evening.

When it mattered on the field Palmer was nearly perfect. He completed 20 of 24 passes for 233 yards, five touchdowns and a career-high 146.7 passer rating in Cincinnati's 45-10 blowout win over Chicago.

The Bengals haven’t looked this good in a long time, and neither has Palmer.

After missing most of last season with an elbow injury, it's not only safe to say Palmer is back -- he’s all the way back.

"Carson, he was on fire today," Bengals coach Marvin Lewis said. "Lately, he’s moving and really doing a nice job."

The Bengals (5-2) are fighting for respect and gradually earning it. After their previous four wins came down to the final possession, this was by far the most complete performance by Palmer and Cincinnati.

"We always thought it, but we just haven’t proved it," Palmer said of being a dominant team. "We proved it on both sides of the ball. We can shut a team down and go down the field time after time."

The Bears (3-3) were overwhelmed by Cincinnati’s offensive onslaught.

Entering the game, Chicago had given up only six touchdown passes. But Palmer’s strong arm and pinpoint accuracy added five more to the Bears’ total.

Four of Palmer’s touchdown passes came in the first half as Cincinnati took a 31-3 lead at intermission. The final 35-point margin could have been worse if Palmer hadn't been pulled and the Bengals didn’t take their foot off the accelerator early in the fourth quarter.

Bengals tailback Cedric Benson also had a career-high 189 rushing yards against his former team. Cincinnati punted only once (in the fourth quarter), and the game marked the most yards (448) and points allowed (45) by Chicago’s defense all season.

"[Offensive coordinator Bob Bratkowski] had to be like a little kid in the grocery store," said Ochocinco, who led Cincinnati with 10 catches for 118 yards and two touchdowns. "When you execute like that, and you run and you pass and everything is working ... "

Bears quarterback Jay Cutler threw for 251 yards, one touchdown and three interceptions in a lopsided duel with Palmer. Playing from behind didn’t suit Cutler well, as the gunslinger mentality took over and he began forcing bad throws. It was the opposite of Palmer's calm precision.

This was expected to be a highly competitive game between two playoff hopefuls. But the wide margin of victory makes you question whether the Bengals are still underrated, the Bears are overrated, or a little bit of both.

The Bengals remain one of the league’s surprise teams and are tied for first place in the AFC North with the defending champion Pittsburgh Steelers (5-2). Cincinnati holds the head-to-head tiebreaker with Pittsburgh heading into its bye week.

Cincinnati’s next game will be a big division rematch against the Baltimore Ravens (3-3) on Nov. 8.

"To get to this point and be at this position, we’re happy and proud of where we are," Palmer said. "But we’re not at all satisfied, and not at all done. We still have a lot to do."

Cincinnati continues to shift its status from a sleeper to a legitimate contender in the AFC with every big win. If Palmer continues to play like he did Sunday, anything is possible.

Veteran offensive guard Bobbie Williams has played a lot of games with Palmer in his six years in Cincinnati. He said Sunday against Chicago was one of the best, if not the best, performances he has seen from his quarterback.

When Williams was asked how far Palmer can take the Bengals this season, Williams’ response was simple.

"All the way to February 7," Williams replied, highlighting the date of Super Bowl XLIV.

James Walker | email

ESPN Miami Dolphins reporter

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