Maturing Palmer is all poise in rally


The second-year quarterback kept his poise and when his team was down -- by a couple of touchdowns and a field goal going into the fourth quarter -- he confidently put the game on his shoulders.

It's something the Ravens and their fans have wanted to see more and more, except yesterday it wasn't their guy, Kyle Boller, but Cincinnati's young quarterback, Carson Palmer.

With three fourth-quarter touchdown throws and an eight-play, 60-yard drive in the final two minutes to set up the game-winning field goal as time expired, Palmer enjoyed the lead role in the Bengals' stunning 27-26 win over the Ravens, the team's first here since 1996.

It had the obvious look of a breakthrough performance, but Palmer wasn't having any of that.

"I don't feel like I'm sitting pretty and have everything figured out at all," he said. "I still have a long way to go and a lot to learn. But every chance I get and every game I get in -- that's another learning opportunity and another chance to pick little things up to move on."

Palmer, the first overall pick in last year's draft, was coming off an impressive four-touchdown, 251-yard game in a 58-48 win over the Cleveland Browns last weekend.

But that was a home game against a floundering Browns defense.

What the Southern California alum accomplished on visiting turf yesterday -- completing 29 of 36 passes for 382 yards with one interception -- came against an imposing Ravens defense that ranked fourth against the pass and tied for first in points allowed at 14.9 per game.

Now, that's saying something.

"He's young, but he's starting to feel a lot better and it's showed this week and last," said wide receiver T.J. Houshmandzadeh. "He's feeling more comfortable with the players and the other guys around him. The offense is opening up more because he's feeling more comfortable. This was a big game for him to move on from here."

Palmer not only handled the Ravens' blitzes, but also exploited them, with Houshmandzadeh catching 10 passes for 171 yards and a touchdown and fellow wide-out Chad Johnson also grabbing 10 balls for 161 yards and two more scores.

"It was a good job by him today. He took care of the football today, and that's the big thing. When you get against this group, they're going to get some pressure, and when you come out of the pocket, you've got to come out and protect the football and I thought he did a great job doing that," said Bengals coach Marvin Lewis. "It's just another step in his growth, and every week he keeps playing better."

After the Ravens reclaimed the lead at 26-24 on Matt Stover's 45-yard field goal, there was still 1:42 left on the clock -- just enough time for Palmer and the Bengals to do what they did all fourth quarter.

After finding Houshmandzadeh for 32 yards early in the drive on second-and-18 from their 26-yard line, Palmer found Johnson for 22 yards to the Ravens' 9 on his final throw with 30 seconds left. One running play later, kicker Shayne Graham was sent in for the deciding field goal from 24 yards.

"It just felt like we were rolling. I think offensively, we just felt they couldn't stop us, especially in the fourth quarter," Palmer said. "It was just a fun game to be in. It was a huge win for our organization. Coming in and doing what we did against this defense, it gives us a big boost and can propel us through the rest of the season."

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