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News » With Palmer out, Bengals in Fitzpatrick's hands

With Palmer out, Bengals in Fitzpatrick's hands

With Palmer out, Bengals in Fitzpatrick's hands
CINCINNATI (AP) - In his two starts for the Cincinnati Bengals, quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick played more like the backup he's been since he arrived in town.

That has to change if the Bengals are ever going to win a game.

With Carson Palmer sidelined indefinitely by an elbow injury, the Bengals (0-6) are now in Fitzpatrick's hands. They got the former Harvard quarterback in a trade with the Rams before last season, thinking he was the perfect backup for one of the NFL's most durable passers.

In his third start on Sunday, he'll have his best chance yet to prove them right. The Bengals gave him full run of the offense in practice this week, something he hadn't had so far. They also designed the game plan with Fitzpatrick in mind, knowing that Palmer will not be available.

"I think that definitely helps," Fitzpatrick said. "Getting a full week of practice last week, and then getting this week, is going to help out a lot. I think there's becoming more of a comfort level with me and the coaches in terms of what they think my strengths are and what I can do, and what plays they can specifically call for me."

They've been figuring it out on the fly, and it hasn't work out so well.

Palmer took every snap last season, leaving Fitzpatrick to stand on the sideline and learn a new offense that he got to run only in preseason games. Palmer likes to run almost all the plays with the starting offense in practice, so Fitzpatrick was out of practice when he got thrown into a game.

Palmer hurt a tendon in his throwing elbow during a 26-23 loss to the Giants on Sept. 21. He went through the first two days of practice the next week, then had to back off because the elbow was bothering him. Fitzpatrick got essentially one day of practice in a game plan tailored for Palmer, leaving the backup in a tough spot.

Fitzpatrick went 21-of-35 for 156 yards with three interceptions and a fumble in a 20-12 loss to Cleveland the next week. He looked rusty and very much out of practice.

He and Palmer shared practice time the next two weeks. Palmer played in a 31-22 loss to Dallas, and Fitzpatrick took over for a 26-14 loss at the New York Jets last Sunday. He went 20-of-33 for 152 yards without an interception, and ran for Cincinnati's only touchdown on offense.

Still not all that good, but much better than his first game.

"I think every time he goes in, he does things better, he feels more comfortable," offensive coordinator Bob Bratkowski said. "You can tell just by his body language when he breaks the huddle. I thought last week as the game went along, he felt more and more comfortable."

Palmer and Fitzpatrick have played with the same handicap: No running game. The Bengals are second-to-last in the league with 72 yards per game, allowing defenses the luxury of clamping down on the passing game because they don't have to worry as much about the run.

The Bengals spent the early part of this week trying to figure out what they have to do to get the running game started.

"We're not going to back off, but we're not going to be stupid with it, either," Bratkowski said. "I mean: We're going to do what we feel we have to do to move the ball. And if we start to get more out of the pass game, then maybe the run game will kick in because we're doing things better in the pass game."

Doing either against the Steelers (4-1) is a challenge. Pittsburgh's defense has given up only seven touchdowns this season and has allowed the second-fewest yards rushing and the third-fewest yards passing in the league.

"Pittsburgh has an unbelievable defense," receiver Chad Ocho Cinco said. "They have been that way for a number of years, so there's no reason for me to praise them. They have always been one of the best in the league. In order for us to beat them, whether we are playing at our home or theirs, we have to play darned near perfect football. That is what it is going to come down to."

The Steelers are coming to Cincinnati, where they have won their last seven games. Whether they make it eight in a row will come down to how Fitzpatrick handles a defense that has him targeted.

"They're relentless," Fitzpatrick said. "I think that's the biggest thing. Even if you've got them blocked for a second or two, they're not going to quit. I think that's been a lot of their success in previous years - they keep finding guys who just go. They want to get to the quarterback, and they're not going to stop until they get him."

Author:Fox Sports
Author's Website:http://www.foxsports.com
Added: October 17, 2008

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