Cincinnati's Palmer Tears ACL in Left Knee

Carson Writhes in Pain
Carson Palmer of the Bengals tore a ligament in his left knee on his first pass Sunday, and may not be available when next season rolls around. (Jason Sipes - AP)
Associated Press
Sunday, January 8, 2006; 8:55 PM

CINCINNATI -- Carson Palmer's first playoff game ended on his first pass. Now, the Cincinnati Bengals are concerned about his long-term future.

Palmer tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee when Pittsburgh's Kimo von Oelhoffen hit him a moment after he threw his first pass Sunday in a 31-17 playoff loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Palmer knew immediately that he had a severe injury. Even though he wears a protective brace on the left knee, it bowed from the force of the hit.

"It was just a sickening feeling because I knew what it was and that my season was over," said Palmer, who was on crutches after the game.

He was taken off the field on a cart, replaced by backup Jon Kitna, who now figures prominently in the Bengals' offseason decisions.

Kitna led the Bengals to an 8-8 mark in Marvin Lewis' first season as head coach, then was the backup for the last two seasons, helping Palmer develop. Kitna is a free agent after the season.

Palmer will need knee surgery and a lengthy rehabilitation. The Bengals are hoping he has recovered in time for training camp, but players typically require more than six months to fully recover from such a severe injury.

The Bengals will have to make sure they have a proven backup in place in case Palmer isn't ready.

"I've never had an injury this serious in my career," Palmer said. "I know it's going to be a long road back, but it's a long way until the next training camp.

"I feel bad for what happened, for our team and for our fans. But at the same time, I'm excited thinking about next year."

Palmer was on the field for only two plays -- a handoff and then a deep pass down the right sideline to rookie Chris Henry. He stood in the pocket for an extra second, giving him time to complete the 66-yard pass -- the longest completion in Bengals playoff history. Stumbling nose tackle Kimo von Oelhoffen hit Palmer's leg as he released the ball.

Palmer hit the ground and stayed down for several minutes while the medical staff looked at his knee. His face was downcast as he was carted off the field and taken inside for evaluation.

"I felt terrible for him," Kitna said. "The only chance I got to see him was at halftime, and that was briefly. It almost brought me tears going in there and seeing him. I consider him my best friend. I felt terrible for him, to have to go down that way."

Six plays after Palmer was hurt, Henry hurt his right knee during a pass play and had to be helped off the field. Henry went to the locker room for an exam, then returned to the field on crutches. Backup Kelley Washington was inactive for the game, leaving the Bengals without a proven No. 3 receiver.

In losing Palmer, the Bengals were forced to go on without the player most responsible for their AFC North championship and their return to the playoffs for the first time in 15 years.

Palmer made the Pro Bowl in only his second season as a starter, set a club record with his 32 touchdown passes and completed 67.8 percent of his throws, also a league high. The club gave him a contract extension through 2014 a little more than a week ago.

He started all 16 games this season, but played sparingly in the final regular-season game at Kansas City because he was coming off a strained groin. Palmer hadn't taken many hard hits this season -- he was sacked no more than two times in any game.

Palmer's injury changed the course of the playoff game, but coach Marvin Lewis refused to dwell on it.

"Gee whiz," Lewis said. "The guy got hurt. Let it go. There's nothing you can do. You can't get it back. To sit there and baby and cry like their quarterback did -- ridiculous."

Lewis evidently was referring to the way Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger complained after Bengals linebacker Odell Thurman hit him during their game in Pittsburgh last month.

© 2006 The Associated Press