Arizona Cardinals quarterback Carson Palmer doesn’t deny there is a little more riding on this week’s game against the Bengals for him, personally.
Palmer, whom Cincinnati selected with the first pick of the 2003 draft, will face his former team Sunday night in Arizona for the second time since his 2011 departure, which resulted from a trade he demanded.
The matchup pits the league’s best offense against one of the top defenses, as Cincinnati (8-1) allows an NFL-low 16.9 points per game and the Cardinals (7-2) average an NFL-best 421.1 yards per game and a second-ranked 33.6 points per game.
“When you play against a former team, it’s not just another game,” Palmer said in a conference call with Cincinnati-area media Wednesday. “… There’s definitely a lot on this one for me in particular, but we’re a very focused group. It’s not about me, it’s about us and executing what we do and focusing on our jobs at hand and going out and trying to get a win.”
Bengals on Wednesday had differing attitudes toward facing Palmer. Some said what happened in 2011 was well in the past, while others indicated the matchup against Palmer provided added incentive .
Palmer had asked for a trade following a 4-12 finish to the 2010 season — before the Bengals drafted Andy Dalton with a second-round pick — and did not show up for training camp going into the 2011 season, instead saying he would retire rather than play for the Bengals.
But when the Raiders lost starting quarterback Jason Campbell to a season-ending collarbone injury in October, his wish was granted.
With a push from then-Oakland head coach Hue Jackson, who is now the Bengals’ offensive coordinator, the Raiders ended up desperately offering a 2012 first-round draft pick and what became a second-round pick in 2013. The Bengals accepted and shipped Palmer to the Bay Area, where he went 8-16 while throwing for 893 yards and 35 touchdowns with 30 interceptions before being traded to Arizona in 2013.
“That was so long ago for all of us,” left tackle Andrew Whitworth said. “But the truth is, he was a great football player and a great leader here and that’s the way we look at it.”
Defensive end Carlos Dunlap, who played with Palmer in 2010, couldn’t even recall the one time the Bengals played against Palmer until he was nudged a little with mention of the four sacks they had on him in a 34-10 win against Oakland at home in 2012.
“I missed a sack on him, that’s how I remember,” Dunlap said.
Defensive tackle Domata Peko, in his 10th season with the Bengals, still holds a little animosity for Palmer, though, and is admittedly a little hungrier than usual to get after the quarterback Sunday.
“It is a little more incentive to get him on his back after leaving us,” Peko said.
Palmer seems to have reinvented himself with the Cardinals, although many thought his best days were behind him after he tore his ACL in a 2005 playoff game — the Bengals first in 15 years.
Despite undergoing a second major knee surgery last season, Palmer is playing perhaps the best football of his career. In his 12th NFL season, he’s completed 64.0 percent of his passes for a league-leading 8.9 yards per attempt and 297.2 yards per game, while throwing 23 touchdowns against seven interceptions.
“He’s healthy,” Dunlap said. “He wasn’t exactly healthy here, and he seems to be in good spirits there, so we have to make him uncomfortable in the pocket and get after him.”
Palmer credited his preparation, rehab, strength training and work on mechanics, technique and footwork for his strong start to the season.
Jackson, who returned to the Bengals coaching staff in 2012, said Palmer has always had a great arm, though, and he wishes the best for his former player — just not Sunday.
“He’s a tremendous player, a great person,” Jackson said. “He knows how to lead. He’s always had those characteristics. That’s what got him to USC, that’s what got him drafted as the first player here, that’s what’s carried him throughout his career. So I’m not surprised by anything Carson does.”
“I have so many great memories and I’m very fond of him,” Jackson continued. “But not this weekend.”