At 35, Cardinals' Carson Palmer 'the same, excellent quarterback he's always been'

Carson Palmer #3 of the Arizona Cardinals makes a pass during the 1st quarter of the game against the Pittsburgh Steelers at Heinz Field on October 18, 2015 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

As Carson Palmer's career sputtered out in two cities and was seemingly derailed by injury at every turn, the Ravens likely thought they'd seen the last of their longtime nemesis from the Cincinnati Bengals.

But in an unrivaled third act with the 4-2 Arizona Cardinals, whom the Ravens face on Monday Night Football, Palmer is looking much more like the quarterback who gave them fits through the late-2000s than the one who as recently as three years ago looked to be playing himself out of the NFL.


He's the rare foe Ravens defenders and coaches say is the same player he was when they played nearly a decade ago, but who is somehow enjoying a career season.

"I haven't seen him in a while, but I've seen him on film," said cornerback Lardarius Webb, the lone Ravens defensive back from that era of AFC North rivalry. "He's Carson. He's doing an awesome job. He's got playmakers around him, and he gets the ball in their hands."


Palmer, 35, along with wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald (32) and running back Chris Johnson (30), are among the offensive players who have seen their careers revitalized in the Arizona sunshine under coach Bruce Arians.

Palmer looked to be at the end of the line when, after eight seasons with the Bengals, who drafted him first overall as a Heisman Trophy winner out of Southern California in 2003, he told the team he'd rather retire than continue there after the 2010 season.

He brought Cincinnati to the playoffs twice, never winning a postseason game but twice making the Pro Bowl. When the Oakland Raiders acquired him in 2011, it was unclear whether Palmer had anything left. He proceeded to win eight of his 23 starts in two seasons there, throwing nearly as many interceptions (30) as touchdowns (35), and was dealt for a pittance to the Cardinals before the 2013 season.

It's been a different story in Arizona, though. When Palmer has played — he missed time with shoulder weakness and a second torn left ACL last season — Arizona is 20-8. He brings the best out of Fitzgerald, who has seemingly only produced recently when Palmer is under center.

And he's helmed one of the NFL's most dominant offenses through the first six weeks of the season. Palmer has as many touchdown passes (14) as New England's Tom Brady, tied for second most in the NFL, and ranks fourth with 1,737 passing yards.

Palmer won't call it a career year yet, as too many of his have been derailed for one reason or another. He says it's in sight, though.

"I really want to be able to say that at the end of the year, because you can have great stretches," Palmer said. "But I want to consistently do it all year long in each game and every game. But I expect, at the end of the year, I'll be able to look back and say this is the best year of my career."

He said he wouldn't be in position to have such a season without the last half-decade of struggles.


"I think the longer you play and the more experience you have, the highs and the lows and the adversity and the success — all those things — shape you as a person, as a leader, as a player," Palmer said. "And there's no doubt I've been through some highs; I've been through some lows. I am who I am as a player and as a man from all those."

It looked unlikely toward the end of his time in Cincinnati in 2010 that Palmer would be a quarterback so feared by the Ravens in 2015. But Ravens coach John Harbaugh sees plenty of similarities between then and now.

"He is a really good quarterback," Harbaugh said. "He has always been really good. You guys remember when he played for the Bengals. The guy makes throws to really good receivers. He always has big targets, and he throws it up and away from defenders a lot of times, and he's really good at that. He's just the same, excellent quarterback he has always been, and he's doing a great job."

Those big receivers — Chad Johnson and T.J. Houshmandzadeh then; Fitzgerald and Michael Floyd, plus speedster John Brown, now — and that skill set all threaten to expose a Ravens secondary that's shown itself susceptible to their brand of explosiveness.

"He's dropping dimes," cornerback Jimmy Smith said. "He can make all the throws, a very capable quarterback who's capable of coming in and putting up 600 yards on anybody."

Over 20 percent of Palmer's 125 completions (27) are for 20 or more yards, a total tied with Palmer's Bengals replacement, Andy Dalton, for the NFL lead. Five different targets on Arizona's roster have receptions of more than 40 yards, and four more have 20-yard catches or better. The Ravens' secondary has allowed 25 such completions in six games, and only two teams have given up more.


It's that type of attack, not what he remembers from the Ravens all those years ago, that will shape his preparation to face them for a 15th time on Monday. Palmer is a career 9-5 against the Ravens. He had 12 touchdowns and seven interceptions in his first seven games against the Ravens, with three of those picks coming in one game in 2004. Otherwise, he's at the very least guided his team to being competitive, though Palmer isn't concerned much with that entering Monday night.

"I really don't go back and think much about past and previous games against that defense," Palmer said. "It's a completely different team, and I'm on a completely different team in a new system and all that. I really don't put too much stock in the success of the past."

Baltimore Sun reporter Jeff Zrebiec contributed to this story.

As the Cincinnati Bengals starting quarterback from 2004-10, Carson Palmer caused major problems for some quality Ravens' defenses. On Monday, Palmer, now the Arizona Cardinals quarterback, will face a struggling Ravens' defense. Here are five of his best career games against the Ravens.


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Date; Result; Comp.-Att.-Yds; TDs; INTs; QB rating;

12-5-04; Bengals 27, Ravens 26; 29-36-382; 3; 1; 127.1;

11-6-05; Bengals 21, Ravens 9; 19-26-248; 2; 0; 128.4;

11-27-05; Bengals 42, Ravens 29; 22-30-302; 3; 1; 124.6;

9-10-07; Bengals 27, Ravens 20; 20-32-194; 2; 0; 100.3;

11-11-12; Ravens 55, Raiders 22; 29-45-368; 2; 1; 95.4;


--Jeff Zrebiec