Besides Rich Gannon, there haven't been many reliable quarterbacks who have donned the Silver and Black the past decade or so.
We all know the story of JaMarcus Russell and his take-the-money-and-eat approach and others such as Josh McCown, Bruce Gradkowski and Rick Mirer failing to impress late owner Al Davis and the rest of Raider Nation.
It's unfortunate Jason Campbell got hurt because he had potential to be the gunslinger Gannon, Jay Schroeder and Jim Plunkett once were. As the door closed on Campbell's season a few weeks back because of a broken collarbone, another opened for Carson Palmer and his chance to resurrect his career. Palmer got his wish to be traded from Bengals stripes to a silver hat about his head, but the immediate transition didn't go smoothly for the former Heisman Trophy winner.
Missing an abbreviated training camp because of the NFL lockout and the first six weeks of the season played a major role in Palmer's inconsistency over his first two stints with Oakland. Palmer came in to relieve an ineffective Kyle Boller in a 28-0 drubbing at the hands of Kansas City and tossed three interceptions with no touchdown passes. Palmer then had the bye week to digest the playbook and struggled in last Sunday's 38-24 loss versus Denver, throwing three TD passes with three more picks.
There were some eye-popping throws in his first two appearances with his new team and it was unclear how Palmer would perform on a short week against the division-rival San Diego Chargers with first place on the line in the AFC West. He said before the game "the sky's the limit" for this offense and understands Oakland isn't appreciated by either the Chargers, Broncos or Chiefs. Palmer made San Diego despise him even more by throwing for 299 yards with two touchdown passes, an interception and a fumble in Thursday's 24-17 win. Palmer isn't naive to the struggles and his attitude is inspiring.
"We have a long weekend but it's not an off weekend for me by any stretch of the imagination," Palmer said postgame. "And I'm going to drag some guys out there with me too. I need to keep grinding on the rhythm and timing part of the game. There is still a lot of work to do. There's a lot of areas we need to improve on, and especially myself I need to improve on."
Palmer, who said he still has things to learn and is not 100 percent, had plenty of help from a defense that held a high-powered Chargers offense to 314 yards and continued to make life hard on Philip Rivers, who was sacked six times and threw an interception. Raiders linebacker Kamerion Wimbley was the star of the defense with four sacks. Palmer also got assistance from backup running back Michael Bush and the bruising runner carried the ball 30 times for 157 yards and a touchdown in place of injured starter Darren McFadden. McFadden is dealing with a foot sprain and his possible return should make life on Palmer even less taxing.
Bush said after the game that the atmosphere changed when Palmer first stepped into the team's facility by asking questions and communicating right away. He was especially taken by how Palmer wanted to get to know his new teammates and displayed the leadership that made him a top QB at one time. Palmer still has some rust to sand down with mechanics and knowledge of the playbook, but there's no doubt he's beginning to settle in with the terminology.
He was excited to see young wide receiver Denarius Moore enjoy a breakout performance with 123 yards and two scores on five receptions. Moore is one of several young targets a veteran Palmer is working with, including tight end Kevin Boss and wide receivers Jacoby Ford and Darrius Heyward-Bey. Not only has Palmer been re-united with head coach Hue Jackson, who worked at USC and Cincinnati with Palmer, but also former Bengals teammate T.J. Houshmandzadeh. Houshmandzadeh has only two catches in two games and brings comfort to Palmer regardless of his low participation rate.
"You know T.J. and I have a long history together, we played together for five or six years," Palmer said when Houshmandzadeh was added. "We've been really working together for almost a decade now."
Houshmandzadeh is learning the curve much like Palmer and maybe the two will get their chemistry started again down the road. The Raiders racked up 489 yards of offense Thursday to halt a two-game losing streak and secured a first-place spot in the AFC West. The Chiefs can tie Oakland atop the standings with a victory over Denver this weekend.
Palmer may be getting familiar with his surroundings and has a tough road ahead against the Vikings, Bears, Dolphins and Packers. Three of the next four contests are on the road and Palmer passed his first test away from home in a hostile environment in San Diego. The win over the Chargers was Palmer's first road triumph since a 20-7 decision at Carolina on Sept. 26, 2010.
The Raiders hope the momentum can continue and the education of Palmer will only grow stronger. Jackson is already on board with his QB's resurgence.
"We haven't seen the best of him yet," Jackson warned. "He's just warming up."