Palmer, Bengals seem average this season

CINCINNATI – Ten months after Carson Palmer won the Pro Bowl’s MVP award, his numbers and his team have become downright average.

Are the Cincinnati Bengals’ woes dragging down their franchise quarterback? Or, is there more to it?

The first suggestion fits best.

Palmer had another so-so game Sunday in a 19-10 victory over the St. Louis Rams, leading the Bengals to one touchdown and four field goals. When it was over, he was ranked in the middle of the pack of NFL passers.

“At this position and with where we are as a team, I need to play great every week, and I haven’t been great every week,” Palmer said. “As far as I’m concerned, I just want to give us a chance to win. Of course, I want to throw a bunch of touchdown passes and throw the ball all over the field, but at this point in the year with where we’re at, we need wins.”

At 5-8, the Bengals are out of playoff contention. They need to win their last three games against San Francisco, Cleveland and Miami to finish 8-8 for the fourth time in coach Marvin Lewis’ five seasons.

Palmer’s breakout season came in 2005, when he led the Bengals to their first winning record and playoff appearance since 1990. He completed 68 percent of his passes, threw 32 touchdowns and 12 interceptions, and finished with a passer rating of 101.1.

He tore up his left knee during the playoff loss to Pittsburgh, and was still recovering from the injury last season, the reason his numbers slipped slightly. He completed 62 percent with 28 touchdowns and 13 interceptions, finishing with a passer rating of 93.9 – still well above average.

The decline has continued this season. Palmer has completed 65 percent of his passes with 21 touchdowns and 17 interceptions, one shy of his career high. His passer rating is 85.5.

Coach Marvin Lewis thinks it’s unfair to judge him on those numbers. The Bengals put a lot of responsibility on Palmer to run their no-huddle offense.

“You have to consider the whole body of work, and he has tremendous ability to manage the football game,” Lewis said yesterday. “He does a good job of handling the things that are put on his shoulders and the different, unconventional things he sees week-in and week-out.

“If you look at what he manages and how he does it, there are a lot of good plays.”

A lot of things have been outside his control.

The offensive line was in flux for the first half of the season because of injuries. Running back Rudi Johnson has been limited by a hamstring injury for most of the season. Receiver Chris Henry was suspended by the NFL for the first half of the season.

All those things left the offense one-dimensional: Palmer throwing to Chad Johnson and T.J. Houshmandzadeh. Palmer is on pace to set career highs for attempts and completions.

Plus, the last two games have been played in miserable conditions – the muck at Pittsburgh’s Heinz Field and a steady rain Sunday in the victory over St. Louis.