Carson Palmer is making progress by degrees toward graduating from the NFL's on-the-job quarterback-training program. The Cincinnati Bengals' first-year starter had his best game...

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Carson Palmer is making progress by degrees toward graduating from the NFL’s on-the-job quarterback-training program.

The Cincinnati Bengals’ first-year starter had his best game last Sunday, when he rallied the Bengals to a 27-26 victory over the Baltimore Ravens.

Against the league’s top-ranked pass defense, Palmer completed 29 of 36 passes (80.6 percent) for a season-high 382 yards. He had three touchdown passes and one interception and finished with the best passer rating (127.1) of his 12-game career.

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The most impressive part of his day was that he brought the Bengals back from a 20-3 deficit in the fourth quarter, completing 10 of 13 passes (two incompletions were clock-stopping spikes) for 200 yards and all three touchdowns.

Bengals guard Eric Steinbach called it a “breakout game” by the top pick in the 2003 draft.

Just two weeks ago, Palmer was breaking down. In a 19-14 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers, Palmer cost the Bengals nine points by throwing a pass that was intercepted and returned for a touchdown and by taking a sack for a safety. That led to some sharp criticism by usually patient coach Marvin Lewis.

In the two games since then, Palmer has been nearly unstoppable, completing 78.5 percent of his passes for 633 yards and seven touchdowns.

In Week 12, Palmer threw a career-high four TD passes in the Bengals’ wild, 58-48 win over the Cleveland Browns.

The past two weeks have, in fact, been the culmination of a steady evolution — with the loss to the Steelers the only stutter.

The Bengals started 2-5, and Palmer struggled as much as the team’s defense (which is still ranked 31st against the run). In the first seven games, Palmer completed 55.7 percent of his passes, with five TDs and 10 interceptions and a passer rating of 63.1.

Since then, the team has won four of five, and Palmer has completed 67.7 percent, with 11 TDs and seven interceptions and a passer rating of 84.6.

“I really think he has continued to grow,” Lewis said in a conference call with New England reporters as the Bengals prepared to face the Patriots today. “He has continued to gain the confidence that people will be where they are supposed to be. I think, playing quarterback, the main thing is to be in sync with everybody else and be coordinated. I think we have seen that in his development.”

Palmer was sacked 19 times in the first seven games. But in three of the past five, he has not been sacked at all. Only the exceptional defenses of the Steelers and Ravens have gotten to him (three times each).

“I think we have gotten better from week to week,” Palmer told New England reporters. “We still have a lot of areas that we need to improve on, but I am feeling more comfortable. I think some other guys, like T.J. Houshmandzadeh, have really come into their own and made some plays. So, I think we are developing as an offense and getting better each week.”

Houshmandzadeh has stepped in for injured Peter Warrick to become the receiving complement to Chad Johnson. The former Oregon State teammates each had 10 catches against Baltimore last week.

Palmer’s struggles were expected when Lewis made the former Heisman Trophy winner the starter in the offseason. Palmer replaced Jon Kitna, a former Seahawk who was NFL comeback player of the year last season and is the Bengals’ backup now.

“I am in a great situation where I have been able to see a guy play for a whole year and then take what I have seen from him and then put it into my game,” Palmer said. “Still, I have a chance at the end of this year to really learn from all of the mistakes that I made and learn from the good things I did, too.

“It is too tough to really say exactly where I am. I think I have learned a number of things over the season, but I still have a really long way to go to where I need to be to be comfortable and be the quarterback that I need to be. I am learning from week to week, but I still have a lot to learn.”

Chris Cluff: or 206-464-8787.