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NFL : Bengals come together : Palmer says success is nice, but it's also about players who like and respect one another.

November 13, 2009|SAM FARMER | ON THE NFL

Cincinnati quarterback Carson Palmer doesn't love Wednesdays. They're to be tolerated, not enjoyed.

That's the day the Bengals -- like players from the 31 other NFL teams -- put in some of their most rigorous work of the week. It isn't only on the field, but trudging from meeting to meeting to meeting, studying tape of the upcoming opponent, working on their own deficiencies, doing all the mundane things that wind up making a difference on Sundays.

Somehow, Palmer's Wednesdays aren't such a grind this season. The Bengals are having success, for one, and are heading into a huge game Sunday at Pittsburgh, with the winner moving into the top spot in the AFC North. Both teams are 6-2.

But it's more than that. Palmer says all the Bengals like and respect each other, they enjoy being around each other, and that hasn't always been the case.

"We've got a good locker room; there are no cliques," the former USC star said this week, taking a break from his preparation for the Steelers. "I've been on a number of teams where there are guys you can't stand seeing walking into the facility on a Wednesday. Guys that are jerks, or just don't care, or are just here for the paycheck. We don't have one guy on the team like that. That's huge. Coming into the locker room and just seeing guys here early, guys coming out drinking coffee because they just got done watching film. That hasn't happened in the past.

"It just changes your outlook on every day."

So far this season, just about everything has come together for the Bengals, who would be 7-1 except for a fluke touchdown at the end of the opener against Denver. Coming off a 4-12 season, they have had some impressive victories -- sweeping Baltimore, winning at home against Pittsburgh and at Green Bay; their no-name offensive line has exceeded most everyone's expectations; running back Cedric Benson has shown some of the promise he never realized in Chicago; and the team finally has a good defense.

The last part is a continuation of the 2008 season, when defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer helped turn around a unit that was in the bottom half of the league virtually every year. Having a stout defense -- one currently ranked No. 2 against the run -- has altered the way Palmer looks at his responsibilities.

"It's made me change the way I play, and made us change the way we play as an offense," said Palmer, who now feels comfortable that the Bengals defense isn't going to let the game get out of hand.

Like a golfer in the woods who patiently punches out to the fairway rather than forcing a hero shot through the trees, Palmer can bide his time and play a field-position game. His passing numbers might not be as gaudy, but he has the luxury of taking fewer risks.

"I used to feel we have to score on every other drive or else we're not going to win . . . " he said. "We used to put in 10, 15 shots downfield, and we'd hit three or four of them a game. Throw the ball for 300-something yards, and we'd need to score 28 points, or 30-something points.

"This season, there have been games where we haven't thrown the ball over 40 yards down the field, which is different for us. But there's no reason for us to take those long shots that put us in second and 10, and possibly in third and 10, and now you've got to punt inside your own 30."

Before the season, and even before "Hard Knocks" captured training camp on film, Palmer quietly told those close to him he had a very good feeling about this team. He's not the type to toss around that praise lightly. In fact, most years he hasn't felt that.

"There have been years when you're just like, 'Aw, [shoot],' going into training camp, or even before training camp starts," he said. "You look around, and whether it's the names on the backs of the jerseys, or the size of guys, or you don't have the last three years' first- or second-round picks on the team anymore -- and we've been through that. Guys who are suspended, broken necks, blown-out knees, whatever the situation has been.

"But just looking around at these guys, we've got good football players."

And that includes free-agent castoffs such as Benson, defensive tackle Tank Johnson, and safety Roy Williams, all of whom have made significant contributions for the Bengals.

"I don't think anything motivates you more than not having a job," Palmer said. "If you look at Tank, Roy, Cedric, they're not guys that when they were let go every team was calling. They had a tough time finding a job. Nothing scares you more than that. Nothing is a reality check more than that."

Now, the Bengals are enjoying a new reality, one that makes each Wednesday better than the last.

"They used to be a dread," Palmer said. "Yeah, it's the NFL, and I understand how people are like, 'How's playing in the NFL a dread?' But when you are getting beat, you don't have a lot of confidence, guys don't really care as much, and your name -- and the organization you play for -- is just getting thrown through the mud, it's a drag.

"This is that much more special because none of those are true anymore. And a lot of guys that are on this team went through that last year and realize how special this opportunity is, how different this is."

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sam.farmer@latimes.com

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BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX

Bengals with Carson Palmer

Cincinnati Bengals records with Carson Palmer, above, at quarterback. The No. 1 pick in the 2003 draft made the Pro Bowl in 2005 and 2006 (led league in bold):

*--* Year Starts W-L TD Int Cmp % QB rating 2004 13 6-7 18 18 60.9 77.3 2005 16 11-5 32 12 67.8 101.1 2006 16 8-8 28 13 62.3 93.9 2007 16 7-9 26 20 64.9 86.7 2008 4 0-4 3 4 58.1 69.0 2009 8 6-2 14 7 61.5 89.5 *--*

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