For 15 long seasons, the drought endured.
The Cincinnati Bengals, since their last playoff appearance and winning season in 1990, had toiled in football hell.
Then Carson Palmer arrived. And come today in Cincy, Palmer will arrive again.
“I have a pretty good feeling how that’s gonna go,” Palmer said, smirking, of the reception he’ll receive when he takes on his former team — a team he quarterbacked to two postseasons in 2005 and 2009.
Those same playoff and winning-season hopes were the reason then Raiders coach Hue Jackson negotiated to trade for the semiretired Palmer last year. But in finishing 8-8 and missing the playoffs, both of those hopes were dashed last season, as was Jackson.
Yet under the tutelage of rookie coach Dennis Allen, the Raiders are toiling in their own hell — an abyss a decade deep. After three straight drubbing defeats, the Raiders are one loss away from guaranteeing another .500-or-worse campaign. Oakland hasn’t had a winning season nor a playoff appearance since 2002.
“We gotta get a win,” Palmer said bluntly, who has tossed 11 interceptions, six in the past three games. “We’re gonna fight, we’re gonna grind this week.”
The usually reserved Allen was more vocal.
“I’m frustrated. I’m disappointed,” the coach said of his 3-7 start. “You wake up and your gut hurts, but at the same time, when a man gets knocked down, a man gets up and fights.”
That fight against the 5-5 Bengals will see Jackson, the man Allen replaced, opposite the Oakland sideline as an assistant coach for Cincinnati. And the Raiders, at least some of them, won’t mind.
“To see him over there,” Palmer said, “I’m looking forward to see him.”
Defensive tackle Richard Seymour, almost, feels the same.
“Obviously, we have a lot of respect for Hue,” he said. “We’ll give him maybe a hug after the game. Maybe not before.”
But the disappointing start isn’t unfamiliar. Allen finished a dismal 5-11 when he was a defensive assistant with the 2003 Atlanta Falcons.
“When you get in these situations, you’ve got two choices — you can splinter and fragment or you can come together and fight like a 15-round heavyweight fight,” he said. “That’s exactly what we plan to do.”
They don’t fight 15-rounders anymore. But when they did, it was the strong and healthy that braved the championship rounds. And with prominent injuries to stars such as Darren McFadden and Seymour, going the distance has been a struggle. But injuries alone don’t account for Oakland’s troubles.
“There’s been a lot of inconsistent play across the board,” Seymour said. “And we can all take blame for that.”