It’s been 10 years since Carson Palmer led the Bengals to the 2005 AFC North title, ending Cincinnati’s 14-year playoff drought.
To me, it feels like it’s been twice that long.
That year the former Heisman Trophy winner led the NFL with 32 touchdown passes and set a Bengals’ record for single season passer rating that still stands at 101.1.
Unfortunately, Palmer’s season ended 4 minutes and 50 seconds into a first round playoff loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers when he shattered his knee while completing his first pass of the game – a perfectly lofted 66-yard strike to Chris Henry.
Carson rebounded from his injury to make the Pro Bowl the following season, but the Bengals were never as good as a team, going 29-39 with Palmer as their starting quarterback in his final five seasons in Cincinnati.
The 2005 season was unquestionably the highlight of his eight years in a Bengals uniform.
Earlier this year, Paul Dehner Jr. from the Cincinnati Enquirer did a terrific series of podcasts looking back at that season with a variety of players and coaches (here’s a link).
Several weeks ago, I had the opportunity to reflect on the 2005 season with team president Mike Brown for the Bengals radio network and I thought it would be timely to publish the Q and A in blog form before Cincinnati faces Palmer and the Arizona Cardinals on Sunday night.
When you remember the 2005 season, what immediately comes to mind?
“Carson Palmer. I thought that Carson was a splendid passer and if he had stayed healthy in that final game, I wonder how far we would have gone. We had a good team and we lost our most important cog. Even then it was close and we should have won anyway in that final game.”
Carson was 26 years old at the time, it was his second year as the starting quarterback, and he topped a 100 passer rating in 11 of the first 12 games that season. At that point, did you think that you had the best quarterback moving forward in the NFL?
“I did. I had a high regard for Carson. He was as pretty a thrower as I’ve ever seen. He was accurate at all ranges – not many are as accurate downfield as he was. I don’t know how he would say the injury impacted him – I think it did – but he recovered and he was a very good player for us. In my mind he was a special player.”
That year Chad Johnson was at the height of his powers with 97 catches for more than 1,400 yards and it was also the year of his celebrations. How did you feel about that?
“I thought it was funny at first. I remember in the game with the Bears that he did a little dance that stayed in my mind, but then it began to wear a little bit because he pushed too hard. He thought of it as his weekly act and had to have something new and different. I’m not so sure that if he hadn’t just stayed with the original little dance that he wouldn’t have been better off in the long run. But he was very quick. He got separation and at that stage of his career, nobody could stay with him. We had a tremendous passer in Carson and he’d put the ball on the money when we would do those little 18 yard in-patterns. The ball would be there and Chad would have momentary clearance and catch it. Nobody could really stop that.”
Mike, it seems somewhat forgotten to me that Rudi Johnson set the franchise record that year for rushing yards in a season with nearly 1,500. Do you look at him as one of the unsung greats in franchise history?
“Unsung is the word – you’re right. He was a tough, hard runner and he gave us what we needed to counterbalance Chad, T.J. Houshmandzadeh, and our ability to throw the ball with Carson. It was a good combination and it was a shame that it broke down due to injury when Carson got hurt. But it’s a fond memory for me. Thinking back on that team is always fun.”
Your team leader in tackles that year was a rookie linebacker who also had five interceptions and five forced fumbles – Odell Thurman. It turned out to be his only NFL season due to off-the-field problems. He’s 32-year-old now and might still be playing if not for that. Would he have been one of the best defensive players in the NFL in your opinion?
“He was that year. He was a great talent and it’s such a shame that we lost him and he lost his career to the off-field problems that he had. I have real regrets about that. He’s a nice person – you’d like him if you knew him – and he had the whole package. Real quickness, suddenness, and he was as decisive as you could be. He was a difference maker, and I think he would have been a Hall of Fame player if he could have hung on to his career.”
That team clinched its first playoff berth since the 1990 season with a December win in Detroit. What stands out about that 41 to 17 victory?
“If I told you, you would just scratch your head. I remember sitting on the bus waiting to leave for the airport after the game, and I had a feeling of inner satisfaction that is rare. When I think of that game I honestly think of that moment. Our players are drifting out of the stadium toward the bus, there is a crowd of people around, and our players are going over and talking with family and friends and I was just sitting there being engulfed with, ‘By God, we did it.’ It felt pretty good.”
We all know what happened in the playoff game when Carson tore up his knee when he was hit by Kimo von Oelhoffen. In all of your years in football, was that the lowest point?
“Well I’d have competition for the lowest point (laughs). I don’t know what exactly would be the lowest point. I guess losing the Super Bowl up in Detroit. We had the better team and we lost to the 49ers – at least that’s how I felt. I had a headache to end all headaches after that game. But if you’re in this business for as long as I’ve been in it, there will be moments of all kinds. Elation, depression, dejection, failure, success…that’s all part of it. Maybe that’s what makes it so interesting.”
I was working at Fox 19 back then, and that year any time there was a player appearance in Cincinnati it was a mob scene. Fans in this town loved that 2005 team. Do you remember the feeling in the city that year?
“Well I’ve seen our city when it caught on fire and really got behind the team and supported us. It requires winning and you have to instill hope and then all of a sudden they begin to think, ‘My God, maybe we can.’ They get swept up in it and it’s very exciting and fun. I’d like to see another one of those.”
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