CINCINNATI - Carson Palmer's playoff career consists of one perfectly thrown pass that turned out very badly.
Palmer connected with Chris Henry on his only pass during the Cincinnati Bengals' playoff loss to Pittsburgh during the 2005 season. Kimo von Oelhoffen smashed into the quarterback's left knee as he threw the ball, causing massive damage.
Palmer left the game on a cart, had reconstructive surgery and expected to be back in the playoffs soon. It has taken four years.
The Bengals (10-6) will play the New York Jets (9-7) on Saturday at Paul Brown Stadium, giving Palmer his long-awaited chance.
"That has driven me," Palmer said. "But really what drives you is watching the wild-card round at home. Flying back to your hometown and watching it with your family or friends, that drives you.
"Any NFL player sitting at home watching games is putting on a show. Nobody enjoys watching the first round, second round, third round, the Super Bowl. It's tough to do. I think that is something that has really driven our team, and definitely me."
The 30-year-old quarterback knows it's an important moment for his legacy as well as Bengals history. Cincinnati is making only its second playoff appearance in the past 19 years. Palmer knows that even though he's been a Pro Bowl MVP and one of the league's top passers over several seasons, he'll be judged on his playoff results.
"Absolutely," he said. "It is how quarterbacks are remembered, created, judged."
His latest season hasn't helped him much that way. Palmer's role was de-emphasized in Cincinnati's revamped run-first offense. He has thrown only 466 passes -- the fewest for a full season since his first year as a starter. His statistics are average and his 83.6 passer rating ranks 16th out of the 32 starting QBs.
Of the 12 quarterbacks in the playoffs, only Jets rookie Mark Sanchez has worse numbers. At least he's coming off a win; Palmer is coming off the worst passing performance of his career.
Playing in cold, windy conditions that bothered his receivers, Palmer went 1 for 11 for no yards and one interception last Sunday in a 37-0 loss at the Jets.
Palmer wondered when he might get another playoff chance.
"I always assumed and hoped and prayed that I would," he said. "I just didn't know what year it would be."`
Even though the Bengals lost that 2005 game in the playoffs, they were convinced that Palmer would get them back there soon.
"Truthfully, everybody around here thought we were headed in the right direction as long as we got him back healthy," offensive guard Bobbie Williams said. "It didn't turn out like that the next couple of seasons, but it seems with the foundation we've got now, we're headed in the right direction.