CINCINNATI -- The questions from curious local reporters came in waves, much like a Cincinnati defensive lineman. There was little time to react, let alone think. And yet, Carson Palmer, the one-time Golden Boy with the keys to the Queen City knew they were coming.Did the boos affect you?What about the criticism?How about your emotions?Talk to any former teammates?How well understood are you in this town?Why?Anything you want Cincinnati fans to know?Then, mercifully, they stopped. And after the crowd dispersed, a weary Palmer looked at a pair of Bay Area writers."That," he sighed, "(stunk). Absolutely (stunk)."Palmer was referring to the game, obviously, and the statement was more accurate than many of his passes thrown in the Raiders' 34-10 loss to his former team in the Cincinnati Bengals.It was anything but the pseudo-homecoming Palmer hoped for, or even expected.Palmer was sacked four times, including twice on the Raiders' opening possession. He threw an interception. He lost a fumble. And, with just 146 yards passing, his franchise-record 16-game streak with at least 200 yards passing came to an inglorious end as he completed just 19 of 34 passes with a touchdown and a season-low passer rating of 64.1."I think it had a lot to do with the rush," said Raiders coach Dennis Allen. "He was under duress all game. We knew they had an exceptional four-man rush, and they were able to get after the quarterback using four men."Which allowed the defensive backs to take away the deep part of the field."Not a lot went right, from start to finish," Palmer said. "This wasn't the game we expected to play. Hats off to Cincinnati. They were the better team today. We have to get better."The Raiders were unbelievably bad in the first half, getting outgained, 289-83, and trailing on the scoreboard, 24-0.And with Oakland's third-quarter woes so evident -- they had been outscored in the third quarter by a combined 123-34 entering the day -- Palmer took it upon himself to gather the team in the halftime locker room."Carson brought us together," said cornerback Ron Bartell. "I wish we could have gotten a win for him and ourselves."Guys play hard, but you can play hard and still not play smart. Right now, we are not playing smart."But the Raiders played their best third quarter of the season after Palmer's moment, outscoring the Bengals 10-0 in the third and making things interestinguntil the first play of the fourth quarter, when he was strip-sacked at midfield and the Bengals went down and kicked a field goal."I think our guys had some emotions," said Marvin Lewis, who was a rookie NFL coach in Cincinnati in 2003, when the Bengals used the No. 1 overall pick on Palmer."I think it's over now. It's done. It's over. Everybody can move on. We are where we are; Carson's where he is. he's a fine, fine football player, but we're all in different spots now."The Raiders are 7-14 since acquiring Palmer last October (they were 12-9 in the 21 games previous); the Bengals are 15-13, including a playoff appearance, since Palmer "retired" from them."I love playing in this stadium," he said. "It's one of the coolest looking stadiums. It's a great atmosphere, the crowds are always intense and the fans are always into the game. It's a great place to play."Unless, of course, you're an unwelcome prodigal son, so to speak.
ALAMEDA – A large chip rests on Jihad Ward’s shoulder. That’s common for athletes, always on the hunt for motivation. Critics, detractors, those of little faith are easy and obvious targets.
The Raiders defensive lineman had options during a rookie season where he was thrust into full-time duty. Mario Edwards Jr. got hurt and never truly recovered, leaving last year’s second-round pick to play significant snaps. The heavy workload came earlier than the Raiders had planned, before Ward was ready. When Edwards Jr. returned late in the year, Ward was essentially shut down.
The Illinois product took some flak for it. He listened, absorbed and was fueled. He’s comfortable with that process, and the motivation that comes with it.
“They’re just trying to hate (on) people trying to do what they have to do,” Ward said Tuesday. “Keep on pushing. That’s all. …There will be critics everywhere.”
Head coach Jack Del Rio openly criticized Ward’s position group. He said after last season that the Raiders had to upgrade their inside pass rush, that they need more quarterback pressure from guys not named Mack or Irvin. He was right. The Raiders had a league-low 25 sacks despite 18 coming from their star edge rushers.
Edwards Jr. got healthy and Eddie Vanderdoes came in the NFL draft’s third-round, adding power and speed to that group. Ward, Denico Autry, Treyvon Hester, Justin Ellis and Darius Latham all have a part to play inside, and Del Rio believes that unit will be more impactful this season.
“It definitely is a much deeper group than we’ve had. More athletic group than we’ve had,” Del Rio said. “I’m very encouraged by the early signs that I’ve seen in pads, throughout camps against a very good offensive line that we have. Another great test this week to evaluate these guys because we’re playing one of the better lines in the league.”
The Raiders play Dallas on Saturday at AT&T Stadium, where starters will play extensive snaps against the vaunted Cowboys offensive line.
“It’s a great opportunity to evaluate, develop, continue to push, but we feel like we’ve strengthened ourselves there,” Del Rio said. “It’s probably the strength of the defense right now.”
That’s a vote of confidence for a group that should be more effective if healthy. Edwards Jr. and Vanderdoes should front the effort, though Ward could be an impact player if he builds off a strong offseason program. Del Rio says Ward was “more decisive,” this spring, a product of being comfortable playing in this system and this league.
Then Ward suffered a setback. He felt a tweak in his foot during OTAs, one that proved serious and required surgery to repair. He spent training camp on the PUP list, and was finally cleared to practice on Monday. Ward doesn’t think the layoff killed offseason momentum. The comfort and confidence hasn’t left.
“Your first year coming here, you’re thinking too much,” Ward said. “Now it’s like ‘okay, I get it now.’ That’s how it is for all rookies. They just have to learn what’s going on, so I feel it. Everything is easier now, it’s my second years now. It’s regular.”
ALAMEDA – Raiders left tackle Donald Penn missed training camp holding out for a new, more lucrative contract. He missed Tuesday’s practice, the first back at the team’s training facility.
His protest began 26 days ago. The regular season is 19 days away.
Penn has worked out with top trainers and private offensive line coaches while away from the team, but still needs time to get back in the flow.
The San Francisco Chronicle reported Monday that Penn is expected back this week. He wasn’t there for the first of three sessions when the Raiders will focus on the third preseason game at Dallas. It’s the last meaningful exhibition, with players down on the depth chart expected to populate the preseason finale versus Seattle.
Penn doesn’t necessarily need to play in a preseason game to prep for the Sept. 10 regular-season opener at Tennessee, but it could help.
Head coach Jack Del Rio wouldn’t address Penn’s status, or whether there’s a deadline for him to report and be ready for the regular season.
The Raiders have managed with Marshall Newhouse on the left and Vadal Alexander on the right. The pair has fared well, though the line will be significantly stronger with Penn back and a Newhouse/Alexander competition on the right.
Raiders general manager Reggie McKenzie made it clear weeks ago that the Raiders wouldn’t talk contract until a player reports. Penn preferred a contract get done before showing up. Weeks were lost to that impasse.
Quarterback Derek Carr hopes it will end soon, and that Penn will come back to the team.
“It would obviously mean a lot, if that’s what he chooses to do,” Carr said. “He’s our teammate. We want all our teammates here. We want to work hard together. We want to be together and joke together. It’s more than just football. We want to be there in his life, with him.
"It would mean a lot. Obviously, I would love it.”