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Humbled Ochocinco contents himself with Pats' winning hand

by | CBSSports.com Senior NFL Columnist
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Little-used Ochocinco isn't about to demand the ball, at least not with New England. (AP)  
Little-used Ochocinco isn't about to demand the ball, at least not with New England. (AP)  

INDIANAPOLIS – If ever there were an event made for Chad Ochocinco, it's media day at the Super Bowl. It's the perfect stage for someone as flamboyant, as outrageous and as downright quotable as Ochocinco, the wide receiver formerly known as Chad Johnson.

Or, at least, it was. But not now. Not here.

And that's because of where he is ... and I'm not talking about Indianapolis or Super Bowl XLVI. I'm talking about the New England Patriots, where making headlines with your mouth, your antics or both aren't discouraged as much as they're napalmed.

Look what happened to star receiver Randy Moss last season: He sounded off about his contract after the season opener and was gone three weeks later. Now he's out of football.

Ochocinco was supposed to replace him -- the deep threat the Patriots needed outside the numbers -- only he hasn't. He had 15 catches, one touchdown and one more pass aimed at him than backup running back Danny Woodhead, for crying out loud.

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That was tough. But clamming up Tuesday had to be tougher. It's one thing not to be involved in the offense; but not to be able to say something about it ... not to voice your opinion in front of your largest audience ever -- well, that's just not Chad.

It's not that he had nothing to say. He did. But there was an atypical indifference, a lack of sincerity, passion and energy that characterized his comments with reporters ... until, that is, he recognized someone outside the circle of his listeners.

"Jack! What's up?" he yelled. "I love you!"

It was Jack Brennan, public relations director for the Cincinnati Bengals -- the team that sent Ochocinco to the Patriots last summer for a fifth-round draft pick. Once upon a time, Ochocinco couldn't wait to say goodbye to Cincinnati. On Tuesday, he couldn't wait to say hello.

"Sometimes it works out," he said, "and sometimes it doesn't."

This time it didn't. Ochocinco wasn't so much a disappointment this season as he was irrelevant. He had only five games with more than one catch, none with more than two and five where he was blanked. Oh, yeah, he was also inactive twice.

Had this been Cincinnati, something would have been said by now. But it's not. So there are no tantrums, no threats, no bold promises. There is virtually nothing ... including catches ... and don't tell me that's not killing the guy.

"Not really," Ochocino said. "If it was emotionally draining I think I would have spoken out like I did in the past. I took this as a challenge; as a lesson. I think it was a test from you-know-who upstairs ... God. 'Will he be able to handle himself in different circumstance when he's not that guy, if he's not that main focal point? Will he be able to handle it?' And I think I did extremely well."

He did Tuesday, saying all the right things to all the right people. In fact, he went so far as to proclaim that he'd rather be with New England, acting as little more than a decoy, than he would somewhere else (Cincinnati?) with 100 catches.

"I've already put up all the numbers," he said. "I've already done that ... It's so much bigger than what everybody else is thinking about. They're thinking about the individuals. If I would have been thinking like that, I would have got cut Week 3, complaining about the ball. It's been a joy."

But ...

"The winning experience is always great," said Ochocinco. "Whether you have a big role, small role or no role at all. That's awesome. Everything this year is something that I've never been used to. What I've had this year is something I can grow accustomed to."

But ...

"I could keep my mouth shut and do what I'm told," he said. "Or I could do the other way and say, ‘This is what I want,' and be at home watching. Get it?"

OK, I do.

"Let me tell you what happens," he continued. "I'm in New England, and when you're in New England you think of the elite of the elite when it comes to NFL teams. Now, if God put me in this situation, and he puts me through this test and I act up on the biggest stage of them all with the elite of the elite, what comes after that? Where am I going after that?" He already put me here. So there isn't any sense in going back. I'm seeing it in a whole different light than everyone else is."

Maybe. Except I know a couple of coaches who think if Ochocinco were the player he was in Cincinnati -- if he were the guy who averaged 79 catches in each of his last nine seasons there -- he could make a difference in Super Bowl XLVI. Their point: The Patriots desperately need someone as a deep threat, and Ochocinco is the perfect candidate.

If, that is, he could run ... or learn the Patriots' offense.

"I'll be honest with you," said one of them. "I don't know if he knows the system. If he did, he could do something that would help. The issue is that everything with New England is based so much on how others run their routes, and when you got one guy who doesn't know what's going on it doesn't work.

"New England must produce outside the numbers, and he's the guy who could do it. But Ochocinco is a zero. That reliability and consistency that is a trademark of the Patriots' receivers ... well, he doesn't have it."

When New England played the Giants on Nov. 6, their last loss, Ochocinco had no catches. But that doesn't mean he wasn't a factor. Tom Brady threw to him five times, more than any other time this season.

But he was inactive for the AFC championship game, period, presumably because he was returning from his father's funeral. Still, New England carried on without him and won ... and it could again.

"I don't know," he said. "I haven't seen the script."

Normally, you'd hear Chad Ochocinco telling someone, anyone, to just give him the damn ball. But not here. Not now.

"You know how I got here?" Ochocinco said. "I came from Dade County (Fla.). This place called Liberty City, where the odds were against me all through life growing up. You think I'm going to complain after all I've been through to get to this point?"

Guess not.

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