It's been a long, sometimes strange trip since his last visit to Baltimore, but quarterback Carson Palmer returns Sunday with the Raiders as someone who has been a considerable thorn in the side of the Ravens for the better part of the past decade.
A year removed from a nasty divorce from Cincinnati that ended with a midseason trade to the Raiders, Palmer went 9-4 against the Ravens while quarterback of the Bengals from 2004-10.
But his time with the Bengals ended in a mess, with Palmer refusing to play in 2011 and demanding a trade. The Bengals at first refused, relegating their former star quarterback to a spectator as rookie Andy Dalton took over. But the Bengals then agreed to move Palmer when the Raiders offered a deal the Bengals couldn't pass up: a first-round draft pick as well a conditional second-round pick in 2013 that becomes a first-rounder if the Raiders reach the AFC title game.
Given that hefty price tag, the Raiders were hoping Palmer could elevate them to the playoffs. That didn't happen last year, as Palmer went 4-5 as the Raiders starter after the October trade. It didn't help that top running back Darren McFadden missed the last half of the season with a foot injury.
McFadden, who has a sprained ankle, has been ruled out for Sunday's game as well, but the Ravens have seen enough of Palmer over the years to know he can still be a problem.
"He is one of those underrated quarterbacks that can make every throw, especially if he gets in a groove," said Terrell Suggs, who has faced Palmer since the two were Pac-10 rivals in college, Suggs at Arizona State and Palmer at USC. " You all saw it when he was in Cincinnati. I remember, vividly, games I thought we had won, and Carson Palmer got in his groove, and he torched us."
One such game came late in 2004, Palmer's first season as a starter. The Ravens took a 20-3 lead into the fourth quarter, but Palmer threw three touchdown passes in the final 15 minutes and the Bengals stunned the Ravens in Baltimore, 27-26.
That was eight years ago, but the 6-foot-5 Palmer, now 32, can still chuck the ball around, as he showed last week in the Raiders' 42-32 loss to Tampa Bay. When the Bucs' Doug Martin wasn't running wild, Palmer was throwing a career-high 61 times, completing 39, for 414 yards.
"When I first thought about it this week when I started looking at them, I thought ‘OK, I will probably see a quarterback that has probably diminished a little bit.’ " Ravens defensive coordinator Dean Pees said. "I don’t see it. I don’t see it. I saw a guy throw a 15-yard comeback from the opposite hash, which he has done before. He stands in the pocket. He stands tall. He delivers the ball. I don’t see a lot of difference in Carson Palmer now than when we used to play him.”
Cornerback Cary Williams said the key to countering Palmer -- and speedy receivers Darrius Heyward-Bey (Maryland) and Denarius Moore -- is to get physical.
"You try to get your hands on 'em, focus on disrupting the timing between (Palmer) and the wide receivers, try to get after these guys physically," Williams said. "Make it a physical game. ... That's the way we play defense."
Palmer, Williams added, "has the ability to throw the long ball, he can throw with accuracy and he can make split-second decisions and hurt you. He's been doing it for years."