Shutdown Corner - NFL

1. Carson Palmer(notes), Quarterback, Cincinnati Bengals. That is what the Bengals can look like when Carson Palmer is dominant for 60 minutes (give or take the garbage time they give to J.T. O'Sullivan(notes)). Palmer completed 83 percent of his passes, and five of his 24 attempts went for touchdowns. Chad Ochocinco(notes) was targeted 11 times, and made 10 receptions. This was the game I'd been waiting for Palmer to have. Yesterday, the Bengals went from, "They could be an interesting team" to "If Palmer plays like that, the Super Bowl is not out of the question."

2. Brian Cushing(notes), Linebacker, Houston Texans. Cushing accepts on behalf of DeMeco Ryans(notes), Bernard Pollard(notes) and everyone else on the Texans defense, but the rookie Cushing has been a big part of their recent dominance against the run. In Week 4, they held the Raiders to 45 yards rushing. Fine, no big deal. The next week, the Cardinals got 44. Next, the Bengals had 46, with league-leader Cedric Benson(notes) being held to 44 yards on 16 carries. This week, Frank Gore(notes) had 13 carries for 32 yards. With all their offensive weapons, if the Texans have put together even half a defense, they are a dangerous group.

3. Tony Romo(notes), Quarterback, Dallas Cowboys. Everyone else has sort of gotten lost in the emergence of Miles Austin(notes), but every big play by Austin yesterday was made possible by an on-the-money throw by Tony Romo. Patrick Crayton(notes) made a big touchdown catch, too, that was set up by Romo shaking off about three near-sacks before making the play. Romo was 21-of-29 for 311 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions on the day.

4. Brett Keisel(notes), Defensive End, Pittsburgh Steelers. LaMarr Woodley(notes) and Keyaron Fox(notes) scored the touchdowns and got the glory for the Pittsburgh defense, but it was Keisel who got to Brett Favre and knocked the ball loose to begin with. Woodley scooped it up, and the rest of the Steelers defense escorted him downfield like they were the secret service and Woodley was the president. An impressive play all around by the defense, and that's where your game was won.

5. Alex Smith, Quarterback, San Francisco 49ers. Usually, only winning teams are represented here in the five MVPs, but I will make the exception for a good redemption story. Alex Smith, the 2005 draft bust for the 49ers, took over for Shaun Hill(notes) at halftime yesterday, and very nearly led the 49ers to an unlikely comeback victory. More importantly, though, Smith seemed to have a good on-field rapport with receiver Michael Crabtree(notes), and long-term, that might be the most important thing in determining who plays quarterback for the 49ers.

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