Forgettable start to the Carson Palmer era

October, 23, 2011
10/23/11
11:00
PM ET
Carson PalmerCary Edmondson/US PresswireCarson Palmer could not shake off the rust as he completed just 8 of 21 passes in his Raiders debut.
OAKLAND -- Carson Palmer arrived at his first game as an Oakland Raider on Sunday, preparing to essentially be a high-profile part of the Raider Nation.

Palmer’s expectation was to simply watch from the sideline and learn the Raiders’ offense from that vantage point. He had no clue he’d actually play.

Completing a weird week for the Raiders and the veteran quarterback, though, Palmer made his Oakland debut in the third quarter. He promptly contributed to the most miserable day of what so far had been a season of renaissance by the Bay. The player bought with a king’s ransom to help keep the Raiders on the championship course coach Hue Jackson vows they are on instead participated in a 28-0 blowout loss to the suddenly resurgent Kansas City Chiefs.

After backup Kyle Boller threw three interceptions -- fans were already chanting Palmer’s name after Chiefs safety Kendrick Lewis returned an interception for a touchdown on the Raiders’ opening offensive drive -- Palmer entered the game to a rousing ovation, only to fare just as poorly as Boller.

Palmer -- who completed a pass on his first play -- was 8-of-21 passing for 116 yards. He threw three interceptions, including one that was returned for a score. His passer rating was 17.3. Boller’s passer rating was 22.3

Now the Raiders have two weeks to mull whether Palmer’s less-than-stirring performance was borne out of rust and unfamiliarity or if it's an ominous sign that the Raiders overpaid for a quarterback whose play has declined in the past three seasons. Palmer hadn’t played since Week 17 of last season, and he had only three days of practice with the Raiders.

Oakland gave up a first-round pick in 2012 and a potential first-round pick in 2013 for Palmer. The Raiders scrambled to make the trade-deadline deal when starter Jason Campbell broke his collarbone last Sunday. The Raiders brought in Palmer -- Jackson coached him at both USC and Cincinnati -- with the intention of making him their long-term starter.

It clearly would be premature to say trading for Palmer was a bad idea because of Sunday’s events. However, the Raiders will be questioned for their handling of the situation.

If Palmer wasn’t prepared enough to start Sunday, how could he have been ready to play nearly half the game and take charge of trying to engineer a comeback from down 21-0?

Palmer’s and Jackson’s explanations of the situation varied some. Jackson said he had hoped to play Palmer in the fourth quarter Sunday in an ideal situation. Palmer maintained that he did not expect to play.

They both said they think Palmer's playing experience will help him down the road this season.

[+] EnlargeKyle Boller
AP Photo/Paul SakumaKyle Boller was replaced in the third quarter after throwing three interceptions.
Jackson said he told his quarterbacks Saturday that Boller would start. He said he knew his decision all along and that there was gamesmanship at play. On Sunday, Jackson said Boller got about 80 percent of the repetitions in practice, while Palmer and rookie Terrelle Pryor (he had a cameo role in the Wildcat formation in his NFL debut) split the other 20 percent of the practice snaps. Jackson said that while the Raiders wanted Palmer to play as soon as possible, the reality was he had been sitting “on the couch” this week.

There’s no doubt Palmer will start Nov. 6 when Denver visits. The Raiders have their bye in Week 8.

Palmer had been working out on his own in Southern California until his trade from Cincinnati. Palmer called the past five days “surreal” and said that he had very little practice experience with his new teammates.

He said he didn’t know he was going into the game until shortly before he did, in Oakland’s second possession of the third quarter. He did say Jackson mentioned it as a possibility at halftime. Jackson said he pressed Palmer into action to provide a spark. Apparently, he didn’t think the Raiders needed that spark before the game.

Don’t worry about Palmer's forgettable Oakland debut ruining the confidence of the nine-year pro. Palmer -- who said at his introductory news conference Tuesday that he would need time to get acclimated -- chalked up his poor outing to rust and lack of knowledge of the situation and vowed to be fully ready to face the Broncos. Somewhat defiantly, Jackson said the quarterback shuffle had nothing to do with the loss Sunday and he put it on himself, saying he deserves the blame. As he does after each defeat, Jackson repeatedly promised that the Raiders will bounce back and they will be fine.

There’s no doubt this was a difficult situation for Oakland. Not only was there the quarterback flux, but star running back Darren McFadden missed most of the game with a foot injury, tight end Kevin Boss left with a concussion and middle linebacker Rolando McClain had a setback in his recovery from a foot injury. Also, kicker Sebastian Janikowski missed the game with a hamstring injury. The bye week will be used for much more than simply getting Palmer up to speed.

In the end, the Raiders squandered a chance to take over first place in the AFC West. San Diego lost at the New York Jets earlier Sunday. The Chargers are 4-2. Oakland is 4-3 and the Chiefs -- who have won three straight games -- are looming at 3-3. Denver is 2-4. If the Chiefs beat the visiting Chargers on "Monday Night Football" on Oct. 31, there will be a three-way tie for first place in the division.

The Raiders have to like where they are in the division mix despite Sunday’s humbling loss.

“When you get beat by a team that you expect to beat, it’s always difficult,” Palmer said.

Palmer knows he had a hand in the loss, but he also knows his opportunity in Oakland is just beginning.

With Jackson’s questionable handling of the situation now over, Jackson and Palmer now must focus on improving from this shaky start and proving to the league that the Raiders’ gamble eventually will pay off.

Bill Williamson | email

ESPN Oakland Raiders reporter

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