Tuesday November 8th, 2011

Carson Palmer said he had the Raiders' offense down pat during their bye, but threw another 3 INTs against Denver. (Tony Medina/Icon SMI)

Every week, we’ll take a look at a player or team whose bad performance did the most to raise the stress level of their coach.

When the Raiders traded away a pair of high draft picks for Carson Palmer, they had visions of the former Bengals quarterback stepping in for an injured Jason Campbell and leading them on a Super Bowl run.

What they likely did not expect was Palmer losing his first start, at home, to Tim Tebow and the Broncos.

But that's exactly what happened Sunday, as Oakland gave away a 17-7 halftime lead and 24-14 second-half edge en route to a shocking 38-24 loss. The Raiders' dreams of a division crown and playoff appearance are still very much alive, thanks to the mediocre AFC West, but Palmer will have to be better than he was against Denver.

Palmer did have some moments of absolute brilliance Sunday, glimpses of the Palmer we saw during his best days in Cincinnati. He threw three touchdown passes, the last two -- a 40-yarder to Marcel Reece and an 18-yard strike to Jacoby Ford -- were perfectly thrown, placed where only Palmer's receivers could get them.

He also threw three interceptions, though, giving him six in the six or so quarters he's played for Oakland. The most picks Palmer has even thrown in a season was 20, both in 2010 and '07. As it stands right now, he's on pace to shatter that mark, despite missing the first six Raiders games.

Palmer figures to improve the more he's in Oakland's offense -- due to the NFL's new bye-week rules, Palmer has had only about two total weeks of practice with his Raiders teammates -- but he needs to do so soon if the playoffs are the goal.

"It's kind of a crash course the last couple weeks," Palmer said after Oakland's Week 9 loss. "It's like you're jamming or cramming for a final or a test. But I just got to continue to work, continue to study, continue to have it down and learn from every opportunity I get."

His first interception Sunday came with Oakland up 10-7 in the second quarter and on the Denver 41. Palmer opted to challenge cornerback Champ Bailey with a deep ball down the sideline to rookie Denarius Moore. Big mistake. Bailey won his joust for position with Moore and picked off the pass, killing a promising Raiders drive.

Palmer's second INT came with the Raiders on the move again, this time facing 3rd-and-11 on the Denver 43.

Oakland was up 24-17 at that moment, with just seconds left in the third quarter. Palmer looked for Moore this time too, but threw well high of his intended receiver. Moore leaped in an effort to reel in the pass, but the ball hit his outstretched hand and ricocheted into the arms of Chris Harris.

One play later, Willis McGahee rumbled 60 yards for the game-tying touchdown, Denver scored all 14 of the game's fourth-quarter points and Palmer put the icing on the cake with a late interception, deep in Broncos territory.

Compounding the Raiders' issues Sunday was a near-complete meltdown by their defense. Oakland allowed Denver to rush for 299 yards (including 163 from McGahee and 119 from Tebow) and allowed 31 points in the second half.

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The Raiders are now allowing 27 points per game, third-worst in the NFL. Sunday, that inability to make any stops put the pressure squarely on Palmer's shoulders to deliver a monster game. Given that Palmer sat out all of training camp, the preseason and the first several weeks of the season, that's too tall of an order right now.

We saw Sunday what can go wrong with that strategy.

It's far too early for the Raiders to panic completely about Palmer, but it's worth remembering that his best NFL seasons came in 2005 and '06 -- he's been inconsistent ever since. Oakland put a lot on the table with the belief the 31-year-old QB could rediscover his mojo. Palmer took one step forward and at least a couple steps back in that quest Sunday. Luckily, he and the Raiders still find themselves tied atop the AFC West. Finishing the season up there, though, will require a much more consistent Carson Palmer.

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