A break in receiver's pattern as Ochocinco talks
FOXBOROUGH - For someone who once famously shipped Maalox to an upcoming opponent, kept a checklist of cornerbacks asked to cover him - and how they fared - posted in his locker, was a finalist on “Dancing With the Stars,’’ had his own reality TV show, and rarely met a microphone he didn’t like, Chad Ochocinco has toned it way down in his first season with the Patriots.
No interviews. No self-made distractions. And, up until Sunday, no touchdowns.
It came as a bit of a surprise, then, that Ochocinco agreed to sit down with the Globe yesterday for a brief interview following practice. To that point, he hadn’t answered any questions since training camp.
While the season has been a success from a team standpoint - the Patriots are 11-3, have the AFC’s best record, just clinched their third straight division championship, and close the regular season with two home games, starting Saturday against Miami - Ochocinco has taken his share of criticism for a lack of individual contribution. In 14 games, the six-time Pro Bowler has just 14 receptions for 261 yards and one touchdown, a 33-yarder that came in the first quarter of Sunday’s win at Denver.
It took 14 games, but the 33-year-old receiver finally found the end zone.
“It felt good, felt real good, yeah,’’ Ochocinco said. “It felt good to get the monkey off my back.’’
Ochocinco, who became known for his creative touchdown celebrations while spending 10 seasons in Cincinnati - he was fined by the NFL on multiple occasions for some of the more outlandish - didn’t have any on-field reaction to his first score with the Patriots.
He simply turned and headed for the sideline, bringing the ball with him. Low-key, even businesslike.
Ochocinco working hard has been a theme all season from the Patriots whenever they’ve been asked about him, with coach Bill Belichick, offensive coordinator Bill O’Brien, and quarterback Tom Brady offering their public support, despite Ochocinco’s struggles.
“It’s never really about one guy. When he caught that touchdown pass, we were happy for him,’’ O’Brien said Monday. “I thought he played a decent game. I thought he played hard.’’
Ochocinco is on pace to have the worst statistical season since his rookie year of 2001, when he caught 28 passes for 329 yards and one touchdown for the Bengals. Seven seasons of at least 1,000 yards followed, four of them featuring 90 or more receptions.
With that body of work, expectations were that Ochocinco would fit perfectly into a pass-heavy offense. So far, that hasn’t been the case.
“I’ll continue to just work, there’s no substitute for that,’’ Ochocinco said. “We all have expectations, including myself, including people on the outside, but it’s coming along. I’m working, that’s all I can do.
“When my number is called I do my best to make the plays, and that’s about it.’’
His number hasn’t been called much, though. He caught two passes in four straight games early in the season, but then saw even those meager numbers dwindle: No catches against the Cowboys, Steelers, Giants, or Chiefs. Four snaps played - with one catch - two Sundays ago against the Redskins.
Despite his numbers, Ochocinco remains upbeat.
“No, not at all,’’ he said, when asked if this has been a trying year. “It’s a team game, it’s not an individual game. Everything is based off individual numbers and everybody wants to look at the stats, but it is what it is. We’re 11-3 and I’m happy.’’
After a decade of mostly losing in Cincinnati - the Bengals made the playoffs twice with Ochocinco, losing their first game both times - he sounded thrilled about coming to New England after the Patriots acquired him July 29 in a trade. When training camp opened, he took to Twitter and called his new professional home “heaven.’’ After Brady passed for 517 yards in the season-opening win against the Dolphins, Ochocinco tweeted again, comparing his new offense’s numbers to a video game.
That simple declaration was met with criticism by some, who felt he shouldn’t be reacting like a fan since he’s a member of the team. As the weeks wore on and Ochocinco’s production remained modest, critics crowed louder. Even Ochocinco hasn’t been able to avoid hearing it. To his credit, he’s taking responsibility.
“No, because I create the criticism, I’m the one creating all the noise,’’ he said, when asked if it’s been difficult to hear the criticism that’s come his way this year.
He was quick to end the short conversation on a positive note. Maybe catching that first touchdown pass will end up being more than a footnote.
“It’s cool,’’ Ochocinco said. “I’ll be back. I promise.’’