One of the angles that has unsurprisingly come out of this week, in which the Arizona Cardinals host the Cincinnati Bengals, is of Cards QB Carson Palmer facing off against his former team.
Palmer was chosen first overall in the 2003 draft by the Bengals and played seven years for the organization before forcing a trade during the 2011 season.
Wednesday, Palmer admitted to the media that Sunday’s tilt has added significance.
“Any time you play a team where you spent some time, and especially for as much time as I spent there, it’s not just another game,” he said. “I’m solely focused on this and we’re solely focused on this. There’s obviously a little bit extra on it, but it’s a big game for us, it’s a big game for them and I’m very focused on my job.”
Cardinals coach Bruce Arians was asked if it’s natural for someone in Palmer’s shoes to have a little more emotion entering a game like this.
“I think if it was the next year, you know? He’s already been through that with the Raiders and having played them and done all that stuff. So I think it is long history,” he said. “Everybody wanted to think I was going back to Pittsburgh for the first time and it’s not about that anymore. It’s about the game this week. I think there are some story lines that people are trying to write, but I don’t think he has any.”
Indeed, just as Arians had coached against the Steelers before leading the Cardinals into Pittsburgh last month, Palmer has already faced off against the Bengals, completing 19-of-34 passes for 146 yards with one touchdown and one interception in a 2012 loss while with the Oakland Raiders.
So maybe the game won’t be as big a deal to Palmer. But Arians did say it may be a bigger deal if this was Palmer’s first year since playing in Cincinnati and first time taking the field against the Bengals. While that is not the case for the QB, it is the exact situation tight end Jermaine Gresham finds himself in.
The 27-year-old spent the first five seasons of his career in Cincinnati, catching 280 passes for 2,722 yards and 24 touchdowns while reaching two Pro Bowls. He signed a one-year contract with the Cardinals in July and is looking forward to the game.
“It’s going to be fun,” he told Burns and Gambo on Arizona Sports 98.7 FM Wednesday. “Just seeing some of the people that I spent so much time with in the past five years. It’s going to be good to see them.
“I’m just going to just cherish the moment and just have fun with it. Seeing those guys every day in practice, actually getting a chance to compete against them, I’m just going to have fun with it.”
While Palmer’s exit from Cincinnati was rather messy — more on that can be read here — Gresham’s was rather uneventful. His original five-year contract with the team expired, and they chose not to bring him back.
In February, Gresham told SiriusXM NFL Radio his heart was in Cincinnati and he hoped to return, but understood at the time it was possible he would not. Just less than nine months later, he said he’s not necessarily disappointed with how things worked out.
“I think everything worked out well,” he said. “They got what they wanted, next guy up with Tyler (Eifert) and everything. It’s a business and I understand that part of it so I can’t be mad about it. They gave me the opportunity to feed my family for five years, and feed them well, and I have no regrets about it.”
That’s not to say Gresham isn’t hoping to put together a big game Sunday against the team that, in no specific terms, cast him aside. Of course he would like to play well and get a win, perhaps showing the Bengals what they’re missing out on.
“But I don’t want to look too much into it or make anything personal about it, you know,” he said.
No doubt Gresham will get a chance to make an impact Sunday, though how many chances or in what way he could step up remains to be seen. Although he’s seen an uptick in usage over the last few games, he’s still on pace for some career-lows with 13 catches for 158 yards and one touchdown on the season. That one touchdown was one of the biggest of the season; it helped the Cardinals regain the lead in the fourth quarter of last Sunday’s 39-32 victory over the Seattle Seahawks.
The catch showed what Gresham is still capable of, even if the Cardinals do not call on him as often as the Bengals used to. He said he’s not greedy and not worried about how many passes get thrown his way. His focus remains on doing whatever the coaches ask of him and winning football games.
He has, and the team is.
“A lot of it is what coverages they play and where the ball goes,” Arians said of Gresham being integrated more into the offense. “We do not traditionally throw it to the tight ends. We pay Larry (Fitzgerald) and those guys too much money to throw it to the tight ends.
“They’re here to block, but he is a very capable receiver when he gets his opportunities, which they’re starting to grow. He’s played well.”
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