GLENDALE, Ariz. – In the days leading up to Sunday night’s preseason game with Arizona, Cincinnati coach Marvin Lewis had some nice things to say about Carson Palmer.
Time seems to have healed the wounds from the now-Cardinals quarterback’s acrimonious separation from the Bengals three years ago.
“He’s gone, we’ve gone on and everybody’s happy,” Lewis said. “He played his tail off last year. He’s impressive to watch. He’s still Carson.”
Palmer was the Heisman Trophy winner coming out of USC and the No. 1 pick overall by the Bengals in 2003. He went on to play eight seasons with Cincinnati.
Twice he got them to the playoffs. But his first postseason pass, a 66-yard completion in 2005, ended with him going down with a torn ACL and MCL in his left knee.
Four years later, Palmer and the Bengals made it to the playoffs again, losing to the New York Jets in the first round.
Twice as a Bengal he threw for more than 4,000 yards. In eight seasons with the Bengals, he threw 154 TD passes with 100 interceptions.
“When you play somewhere eight or nine years, you have a lot of memories,” Palmer said, “and I have a lot of good memories.”
But by 2011, Palmer wanted no more of the Bengals. Still under contract, he stayed away from training camp and the regular season in a showdown with owner Mike Brown, who said he wouldn’t trade the quarterback.
Finally, well into the 2011 season, Cincinnati sent Palmer to Oakland for a conditional first-round draft pick in 2012 and a conditional second-round pick in 2013.
Two years later, Arizona acquired Palmer at a much lower price — trading a sixth-round pick for a seventh and giving the Raiders a seventh rounder.
After a difficult first half of last season, Palmer came on strong, finishing with a career-high 4,274 yards passing — his fourth 4,000-yard season.
Interceptions were a problem as he learned coach Bruce Arians’ offense, but they diminished in the later part of the season.
Palmer finished with 24 TDs and 22 interceptions, but in the final nine games, Arizona went 7-2, with Palmer throwing 16 TD passes with 11 picks — four at Seattle, a game the Cardinals won.
Lewis said it’s the same arm strength and poise he saw when he scouted Palmer at USC.
“You see it every time he drops back,” Lewis said. “It’s just so impressive.”
Palmer, at 34, has had a strong training camp. He was 5 for 5 for 84 yards and a TD against Houston in the team’s first offensive series and directed a 93-yard touchdown drive the first time the Cardinals had the ball last week at Minnesota.
When Arians was asked who was the MVP of camp, he thought for a second and said “Carson.”
Now Palmer and what he has called the most talented team of his career will be tested by one of the best defenses in the NFL. And, since it’s the third game, it will be first unit against first unit for about a half.
Andy Dalton, the man who as a rookie replaced Palmer, has a hefty new contract and has had a great preseason in his brief time on the field, completing 11 of 13 for 215 yards and a touchdown. Last week against the Jets, Dalton was 8 for 8 with a 43-yard touchdown pass.
The Cardinals are strong in the secondary, but up front they’ve been shaken by the loss of defensive tackle Darnell Dockett to a season-ending knee injury in practice on Monday. They already were trying to replace departed inside linebackers Karlos Dansby and Daryl Washington.
Cincinnati defensive tackle Geno Atkins is expected to make his first preseason appearance, playing a couple of series. The Pro Bowl lineman tore an ACL last October.
Bengals backup quarterback Jason Campbell should be back after missing the Jets game with a bruised elbow on his passing arm. Campbell threw two interceptions that were returned for touchdowns in the first preseason game.
Arizona kicker Jay Feely is trying to hold off rookie Chandler Catanzaro. Both will kick Sunday. Rookie Logan Thomas, competing with Ryan Lindley for the No. 3 quarterback job, is to play the fourth quarter. The fourth-round pick from Virginia Tech was 10 of 12 for 113 yards and a touchdown in his NFL debut against Houston. Lindley isn’t scheduled to play.
Arians said left guard Jonathan Cooper (toe) and inside linebacker Kevin Minter (pectoral muscle) are game-time decisions, although they didn’t practice all week.
Center Lyle Sendlein and wide receiver Michael Floyd will make their preseason debuts after missing two games with injuries.