No pain, all gain

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  • Carson Palmer
    Carson Palmer
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CINCINNATI – If you didn't know, you wouldn't have known.

Well, other than wondering what was causing that guy next to you in the orange No. 9 jersey to take turns either holding his breath in fear or emitting celebratory screams into the warm summer night.

Other than that, this looked normal for the Cincinnati Bengals and their fans.

Carson Palmer was Carson Palmer, business and knee braces as usual. He threw deep, threw short, rolled out, got knocked down, avoided the blitz, threw touchdowns and essentially did whatever he wanted to the Swiss cheese defense of the Packers in the Bengals' 48-17 exhibition victory on Monday night.

But if you just happened to show up at Paul Brown Stadium down by the river and didn't know Palmer had his knee destroyed 7½ months ago, which in turn destroyed the Super Bowl dreams of the Bengals, then you wouldn't understand why a franchise preseason record crowd kept rejoicing at every little thing their star quarterback did.

Like break the huddle. Let alone chuck three touchdowns.

"It was crazy when he just came out the tunnel before the game even started," wide receiver Tab Perry said. "The crowd was just roaring. This is his team."

Palmer, coming off a torn ACL and MCL, completed 9 of 14 passes for 140 yards and those three scores in the most significant performance of the NFL exhibition season. Those numbers actually would have been even better, but one ball was dropped and a completion was erased due to a penalty.

As important as the mid-season timing, accuracy and confidence Palmer displayed in less than two quarters of work was, the most encouraging thing was the three times he was knocked down only to spring immediately back up.

Knee injury? What knee injury?

"It felt good to be hit," he gloated after.

There was even one play where Palmer skipped out of the pocket and then turned up field for an 11-yard sprint and a first down. The place went nuts. Like late-game, late-season touchdown nuts. It may go down as the most celebrated preseason run in NFL history, with 65,614 fans standing, stomping and screaming in delight.

A little later, even God got into the act and sent down some lightning bolts, which may have delayed the game but proved to Bengal fans that the big man may have finally answered their prayers for this oft-bumbling, occasionally cursed franchise.

The Bengals' bad luck included the playoff opener last January, when Palmer, after leading Cincinnati to an 11-5 record, had his knee crushed on the second play of a loss to the Steelers. Not only did it end the 2005 season, but with initial medical reports calling for 12 to 15 months for recovery, 2006 was in jeopardy, too.

A ferocious offseason rehabilitation seems to have alleviated those fears.

"It was good to get that one out of the way," Palmer smiled after. "My knee felt great. I took a couple of shots. I put a lot of pressure on it. I got a couple guys to put their weight on it, to hit me a couple times. It felt strong like I expected. I'm confident in it. I am ready to roll on."

"He dropped back, he rolled out, he got hit a few times, he had a chance to run the ball," Bengals coach Marvin Lewis said. "He looked very, very sharp. It's still just preseason, but it's encouraging."

Maybe Lewis is just pleased that the focus of the team will no longer be on Palmer's knee.

The people of Cincinnati do not get too uptight about things – they once had Jerry Springer as their mayor – but Palmer's knee had everyone on edge. Even the slightest bit of new information was dissected in the local media.

It was understandable, since the Bengals are a serious Super Bowl contender if Palmer is in top form. Without him, they might be a .500 team. Not that the coach wants to hear that.

"Unfortunately, a lot has been made about what he's been through," Lewis said of Palmer. "He's our quarterback. He got injured [and] he's come back from a knee injury. Now we can move on and quit writing about it. It's over now."

About the only caveat to Monday's game is that Green Bay is a horrendous excuse for a football team right now. The Bengals may have gotten a better game out of local prep power St. Xavier.

But that didn't dampen the mood of the overflow crowd. Anyone who says the preseason is meaningless wasn't here for this revival meeting of a game.

"I missed a couple checks," Palmer cautioned. "I missed a couple of throws. I wasn't as accurate as I wanted to be on a couple of throws. I definitely have a long way to go to get where I want to be."

Palmer will have to forgive the fans for already getting to where they want to be after this near perfect preseason evening. Cincinnati can dream of a dream season again, pondering touchdowns instead of torn knees.