CINCINNATI -- With a black glove supporting his left hand, quarterback Carson Palmer went through a full practice Wednesday, an indication that his sprained thumb won't be a problem this week.
Palmer hurt the thumb on his nonthrowing hand during the fourth quarter of a 17-14 victory over the Baltimore Ravens last Sunday. He had to hand off using only his right hand for the rest of the game, forcing him to change how he handled the ball. Palmer showed his knack for improvisation: The exchanges with running back Cedric Benson went smoothly.
Palmer said Wednesday that the thumb was much better -- it wasn't taped when he met with reporters before practice -- and shouldn't affect him Sunday against the Houston Texans.
The Bengals (4-1) have won three games in a row because of last-minute drives led by Palmer, who has been a key reason behind their dramatic rise to first place in the AFC North. They can't afford to have him hobbled.
"Not an issue at all," Palmer said.
When a teammate lobbed a ball to him during warmups, Palmer fumbled it and dropped it, an indication that he's still a bit limited.
"I broke my collarbone in college one time and needed to do that for a couple of games," Palmer said. "I've done it before, and it's one of those things you do on the fly."
Palmer has led the Bengals on winning drives in each of the last three games. He has been at his best under the most intense pressure, completing 66 percent of his throws for a passer rating of 112.8, which is extraordinary under the circumstances.
Palmer also has kept drives alive by scrambling on third- and fourth-down plays when defenses drop to take away his receivers. Although he has never been much of a runner, Palmer has become more of a pocket passer since his his left knee was torn up during the Bengals' playoff loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers to end the 2005 season.
Palmer has been playing the way he did before the reconstructive surgery.
"I was told way back when I had the surgery that it was going to get better year after year," he said. "I was going to feel 100 percent but would realize I was 100 percent until the following year and the following year. Body-wise, I feel as good as I felt before I tore up my knee."
Palmer didn't miss a game in the 2006 season even though the knee was still mending. He wore a protective brace and didn't move around much. By 2007, he was closer to normal physically, but the offensive line was crumbling. Last year, he missed all but four games because of a torn ligament and tendon in his passing elbow. Without Palmer, the Bengals won just four games.
They got a scare in the first preseason game, when Palmer suffered a moderate sprain in his upper left ankle. He missed the last three preseason games and didn't move around very much during the first couple games in the regular season.
Now, he's taking off on a scramble whenever the defense forgets about him.
"I think he's finally getting over the ankle injury," Bengals coach Marvin Lewis said. "It seems less and less bothersome to him that way."
Even though he's feeling better, Palmer would rather not run.
"I'm trying to find a guy open at the last second in those types of situations where the big plays are made," Palmer said. "Coverages break down after three or four seconds. I'd much rather throw it and get the big-play potential in a throw."
Notes: The Bengals aren't close to selling out Sunday's game, which would end their streak of 46 consecutive sellouts at Paul Brown Stadium. The last game that failed to sell out also was against the Texans, on Nov. 9, 2003. ... Long snapper Clark Harris looked up at the semicircle of 13 reporters and photographers and laughed. "You guys will never want to talk to me again," he said. "That's what I'm hoping for." The Bengals released snapper Brad St. Louis on Tuesday and signed Harris. Bad snaps were a part of three botched field-goal attempts and two botched extra-point tries in the first five games.
Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press