CINCINNATI -- In the home locker room of Paul Brown Stadium, an ugly silence hung in the air. The frustration and emotion felt as palpable as the sweat and blood dripping from Bengals equipment tossed onto the orange and black carpet.
A fifth consecutive week of work with nothing to show for it. Yet another must-win, lost. An emphatic fork stuck in a Bengals team that once harbored realistic expectations of playing deep into January, and before Thanksgiving fixings even left the supermarket shelves.
|Terrell Owens says if he and pal Chad Ochocinco can produce at similar levels, the Bengals' offense will start to take off. (AP)|
The conditions were perfect for what many critics had been awaiting since the first week of training camp. It's time for Terrell Owens to blow up the locker room.
That's how this works, right?
When frustration runs high and losses pile up, Owens piles on. The perfect storm of perception, reputation and rumor infer this should be when the star receiver divides the team.
Memories come to mind of the alleged fight with Jason Witten in Dallas, the suspension and deactivation in Philadelphia or being jettisoned from San Francisco in his prime.
Yet, in the negatively charged aftermath of one of the most frustrating losses in one of the most frustrating seasons in the history of a franchise defined by frustration, no Bengals braced for an Owens outburst. Nobody even considered it. They had no reason.
Not only has Owens not been the one to pull apart the Bengals' locker room, he's stationed on the front line of those holding it together.
"He came here to win football games and we're not winning them," Marvin Lewis said. "His way is 'What more do I got to do?' Which is what you want to have."
Owens' on-field contributions are nothing new. His 151 career receiving touchdowns rank third all-time. With 15,721 career receiving yards, he has moved into second on that list.
Still, that he's posting gaudy numbers this season, with his 37th birthday less than a month away, deserves recognition. Owens' 55 receptions for 770 yards through eight games put him on pace to set career highs in both categories.
Of course, nobody ever questioned the six-time Pro Bowler's physical skills. His off-field past, however, will follow every step of his path to Canton, Ohio, no matter how many more touchdowns or yards he racks up before retiring.
In a season of the Randy Moss saga, Owens, the man who helped make "clubhouse cancer" a catch phrase, ditched the problem-child tag in the middle of his team's first-half meltdown.
"My main purpose of being here is to get to the Super Bowl," Owens said. "My main objective is to somehow will this team and get them a playoff spot."
The odds are stacked against them, but not for lack of Owens' effort.
Following a disastrous first half against Atlanta in Week 7, Owens came out of halftime intent on taking over. He did just that to spark a 22-0 Bengals run. In need of points against Miami the following Sunday, he scored two touchdowns. Driving late against the Steelers on Monday, Owens attacked the middle of the field, endured a brutal hit from Troy Polamalu, popped up unfazed and tossed the ball he had just hauled in to the referee.
In Lewis' eyes, his team needs more players with an Owens-like attitude.
"He can [take over games]," Lewis said. "We need that same mindset defensively and on special teams -- 'I can take this over.' But do it within the scope of what I'm supposed to do.
"It's good to have that because he keeps the other guy on the other side from flaming out."
Defensive coverages suggest the double-team attention paid to Ochocinco is freeing up Owens for production that has included seven touchdowns in his past five games. But for a braggadocious wideout like Ochocinco to see his star eclipsed by another -- even a close friend -- could provide a devastating dent to his pride.
Luckily, Owens' relationship with Ochocinco and his commitment on the practice field have helped to keep Ochocinco 2010 from reverting to the disruptive, complaining version of Ochocinco 2008.
"We're going to get through this and fight together and I'll do my best to bring him along," Owens said. "We have to find some way to get 85 involved for this offense to come to fruition."
Owens' positivity has helped a disappointed group of Bengals maintain a thread of hope. He hasn't been the most vocal of locker-room leaders, but what has endeared Owens to his quarterback and coaches has been that even as one loss became two, and eventually five, Owens' demeanor and effort never changed.
"He's been great to work with and been great for young receivers to watch work, for young guys at every position to watch work," Palmer said. "He doesn't take a rep off, doesn't take a day off and that's great for not only receivers but every position to watch."
In fact, the only time the other receivers and young players didn't watch Owens was in that dreary, depressing locker room as the now 2-6 Bengals faded into the archives of the 2010 headlines.
Sure, Owens could very well still write another disturbing chapter of his finger-pointing biography if Cincinnati's final eight games turn from bad to worse.
Everybody in America's waiting for it, right?
Well, everybody except those who deal with him every day.
"It's an uphill battle, we have eight games left and we have to start with Indianapolis on Sunday," Owens said. "You have to stay positive."