Palmer at his best against Ravens

Posted by ESPN.com’s James Walker

CINCINNATI -- It's the statistic no one likes to talk about in Baltimore.

It's also a topic those in Cincinnati would rather keep under wraps.

But here are the facts: Bengals quarterback Carson Palmer is 7-3 in 10 career starts against the Ravens. He's given the vaunted Baltimore defense more trouble over the years than any quarterback not named Peyton Manning.

"If you say we’ve had success, that’ll be your line," said Bengals coach Marvin Lewis, eluding the topic.

The truth is, Palmer brings his "A" game against Ray Lewis, Ed Reed and Co. The two-time Pro Bowl quarterback has thrown for 2,506 yards, 13 touchdowns and nine interceptions in 10 career meetings with the Ravens.

The trend gained even more traction when Palmer led the Bengals to another game-winning drive in the final seconds of Cincinnati's 17-14 victory over Baltimore on Oct. 11. Palmer, who carved up the Ravens secondary with 271 yards, connected with receiver Andre Caldwell for a 20-yard touchdown pass to help catapult the Bengals into first place in the division.

Palmer's success will be something to closely monitor Sunday when Baltimore (4-3) visits Cincinnati (5-2) in a huge game for both teams. Cincinnati can improve to 4-0 in the AFC North, while Baltimore has a chance to tighten the division standings and ensure that it remains a three-team race.

"I actually wasn’t aware of that," Palmer said of beating the Ravens in seven of 10 career starts. "We’ve always had good game plans against them. We’ve matched up pretty favorably against them. I think because Marvin was there and he won a Super Bowl, Baltimore week is always a real big deal."

It's difficult to pinpoint Cincinnati's biggest rival in the division, as a strong case can be made for the Ravens, Pittsburgh Steelers and the in-state Cleveland Browns. But it’s clear the Bengals have no problem gearing up for games against Baltimore.

Cincinnati receiver Chad Ochocinco has said on many occasions that his battles with the Ravens are the most enjoyable games of the season. Palmer also admits the respect factor plays a big role in getting ready for these games.

"I love the challenge," Palmer said.

Not only has Palmer been up for the challenge, he's often conquered it.

Matching wits and physical prowess with Baltimore's defense is never easy. But Palmer, at times, has made it look routine. Manning also is 6-2 with 16 touchdown passes in his career against the Ravens, and New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady is 3-0 with three touchdowns.

"[Palmer] is a smart football player that does well against these guys, and we see Baltimore a lot more often than other quarterbacks," Bengals left tackle Andrew Whitworth said. "These guys kind of have that shock factor. I think we saw that a little bit with Denver last week.

"When you get out there and see how big and physical they are, and athletic, if you're not used to it and expect it when you get on the field with them it has a chance to overwhelm you."

As Whitworth mentioned, Broncos quarterback Kyle Orton certainly fell victim to the "shock factor" last Sunday.

Orton, who was an MVP candidate through six games, appeared uneasy and out of rhythm from the first play from scrimmage when Baltimore linebacker Jarret Johnson turned the corner for a quarterback sack. From there, Orton took several additional hard shots and rushed a lot of his throws, as the speed and physicality of the Ravens' defense rattled him.

In Cincinnati's first meeting with Baltimore, Palmer was sacked just once and had the kind of pass protection needed to have success. Baltimore's secondary, for the most part, has struggled this year. So Palmer had no problems picking the Ravens apart.

Look for the Ravens to give Palmer less time to throw in their second meeting.

"The way things are set up right now, as tough as it is to cover on the back end, you’ve got to get the quarterback," Baltimore coach John Harbaugh said this week. "If you don’t get to the quarterback, it’s going to be impossible to defend the pass."

Consider this divisional game a window into what to expect in the second half of the season.

If Baltimore wins, the Ravens, Bengals and Steelers (5-2) will all have at least five victories after this week's games. But if the Bengals win, it virtually would end Baltimore's hopes of winning the AFC North this year and create a major uphill climb to earn a wild-card spot down the stretch.

"We know that they have to beat us," Palmer said of the Ravens. "They're in a must-win situation. But we also feel we're in a must-win situation, too."