CINCINNATI (Jan. 9, 2006) -- One replay was all Carson Palmer needed to see.
The Pro Bowl quarterback won't dwell on the play that doomed the Bengals' first playoff appearance in 15 years. He tore a knee ligament on his first pass during a 31-17 loss to Pittsburgh.
Palmer slowly shuffled around the locker room on crutches Jan. 9, unsure when he'd have reconstructive surgery and unable to say definitively that he'll be fully recovered in time for training camp.
As for the tackle that led to it all, Palmer said Kimo von Oelhoffen did nothing.
"I don't know Kimo personally," Palmer said. "From what I've heard, he's a classy guy. Football is football. I don't think it was malicious at all. He's a guy with a high motor that plays hard and was playing hard.
"It just happened. I don't think in any way he was trying to do anything. It's just part of the game."
The Steelers lineman was stumbling as he came off a block and lunged at Palmer's legs, crashing into the side of his left knee. Palmer tore the anterior cruciate ligament when the leg bowed.
He couldn't bear to watch the replay.
"I saw it once," he said, with a pained expression. "I didn't need to see it a whole bunch more than that."
Although Palmer absolved von Oelhoffen, coach Marvin Lewis thought the officials should have penalized him for a late hit. No flag was thrown on the play, a 66-yard completion to Chris Henry.
"That kind of play is the play by the rules in place to be a penalty," Lewis said. "The official didn't see it that way. I think everybody who knows Kimo knows he plays hard. He's not a bad player or bad person. He's a good person. But it's unfortunate and it happened."
Palmer expects to have reconstructive surgery soon. Every injury is different, so there's no way to tell precisely when he'll be ready to play again. The typical recovery time is six to nine months.
Although Palmer hopes to be ready for the start of training camp in six months, he knows he can't afford to push too hard in rehabilitation and suffer a setback.
"There's definitely a timeline," he said. "But I'm not going to be stupid about it. I realize I've made a commitment to this organization for the future, and I need to think about that, too.
"I'm not going to do anything that's going to affect me in a couple of years or later on this next football season. I'm going to take precautions. I'm going to work as hard as I can without doing too much."
That means that his backup will have to run the offense during minicamp, and maybe longer. Jon Kitna is a free agent after the season. Lewis declined to talk about Kitna's future, but Palmer lobbied for him to stay.
Kitna was the starter during Lewis' first season, leading the Bengals to an 8-8 finish while Palmer watched from the sideline as a rookie. Kitna has been the backup each of the last two seasons.
He took over after Palmer got hurt on Sunday and led the Bengals to a 17-14 halftime lead, going 14 of 20 for 109 yards and a touchdown without an interception. In the second half, the Steelers changed coverages and Kitna crumbled, going 10 of 20 for 88 yards with two interceptions and a fumble.
Palmer said Kitna is his main offseason concern.
"I'm not worried about anybody else other than Jon," Palmer said. "He has some opportunities to go and play some other places. I know the organization wants him back. It's a matter of what he wants to do.
"I wish him the best. I want what's best for him. But I'm also selfish, and I want him back."
Palmer's teammates are wondering whether he'll be back for training camp. He set a franchise record and led the NFL with 32 touchdown passes, and made the Pro Bowl in his second year as a starter.
Palmer sat in a locker and shared small talk with his linemen and receivers, occasionally laughing at a joke. He seemed upbeat, but teammates couldn't help but notice the metal crutches leaning against the side of the locker.
"The guy they're building our franchise around goes down with an ACL," left tackle Levi Jones said. "You don't want that to happen to anybody, but for that guy there to get hurt -- basically, where our team is going to go, he's going to take us. It's definitely hard to see.
"That's definitely a concern. I'm just going to hope and pray for the best."