|The last days of Chad Ochocinco||02.01.12 at 6:31 am ET|
INDIANAPOLIS — Even when Chad Ochocinco is dull, he’s never really dull.
It was a subdued and, at times, semi-testy (turns out he’s wasn’t thrilled when someone asked a question that might have had something to do with football) Ochocinco at Media Day on Tuesday at Lucas Oil Field. Voice rarely above a whisper, answers short and with the hint of an edge. Ochocinco at Media Day was supposed to be gold for the TV and radio folks, but instead we got a player almost seemingly embarrassed to be part of the event. It made for lousy theater but for a fascinating character study.
Gone were the requests for group hugs. He didn’t tell us if he was still in heaven. We didn’t even get one Child Please.
There were 18 podiums at Media Day, with 17 players and Bill Belichick taking the spots. Ochocinco wasn’t at a podium, but he commanded the fourth-biggest crowd (Brady, Rob Gronkowski, Belichick were the medal winners, and yes, it says plenty about us media weasels that Ochocinco had 50 times the crowd of Kevin Faulk, who is only the most valuable running back in franchise history and is almost certainly playing his last NFL game on Sunday). Strictly on production alone, Ochocinco has done nothing to earn more attention than anyone on the roster. He’s been a bust, a complete and total disaster this season. It just hasn’t worked out.
Call it poor casting, the life of a wide receiver in his 30s, a fear of Tom Brady (my personal choice), but the Chad Ochocinco Experiment has been a failure.
“After a 10-year span, I finally had a year where it didn’t go well,” Ochocinco said on Tuesday during a 30-plus minute session with the media. “The year wasn’t everything I expected or what anyone else expected, but I did what I was supposed to do, worked and stayed quiet and I’m not sure being on this stage would be the reward. There’s nothing else I can do, I’m part of the team and I did everything they’ve asked of me.”
And that’s where it gets tricky. It’s easy to blast Ochocinco for his performance — 15 catches this season, hasn’t been below 53 since his rookie campaign — but not his effort. This isn’t Albert Haynesworth or J.D. Drew. If there was a whiff of Divadom to Ochocinco before he was traded to New England it was left behind in Cincinnati. This isn’t Randy Moss bitching out Bill O’Brien or Haynesworth giving up against the Giants.
He’s put his head down, stopped (OK, slowed down) his tweeting and tried to get in his playbook. By every account, Ochocinco has been a model teammate (“As good as teammate as I’ve ever had in my life,” Julian Edelman said on Tuesday) and has put both his arms around the Patriot Way. Problem is, at least for this team he’s probably not as useful as Tiquan Underwood, let alone Wes Welker and Deion Branch. I don’t know if that’s his fault or not, but it’s reality.
It’s just been mistake after mistake. Poorly run routes, penalties, drops, miscommunication with Brady (who clearly has zero trust in Ochocinco, which is the biggest reason he’s buried on the bench), just a sea of lowlights. No one expected 100 catches for 1,500 yards, but no one expected this, either.
“It’s been an adjustment, the first year in anything is an adjustment,” Ochocinco said. “Getting married is an adjustment, there are adjustments you have to go through in everything. … That’s what I’ve done this year is gone through the adjustments, it took a season of learning the Patriot Way and that’s it.”
Look, there will be no season two for Ochocinco in New England. What’s the point? I think Belichick has seen enough to know it’s just a lousy fit. Sure, it’ll be a salary cap hit (a couple of million bucks) but it has to be done. One thing about Belichick, he’s always known to cut bait before things get nuclear (Moss and Haynesworth as the latest examples). And Ochocinco has said and done all the right things this year and I’ll buy that it’s genuine, but is he still going to feel that way if he’s again a non-factor next season? And is there evidence to suggest that he’ll suddenly steal targets from Welker, Branch, Aaron Hernandez or Gronkowski? Nope.
Chad Ochocinco isn’t going to retire (at least he said it wasn’t a possibility on Tuesday), isn’t ready for a career of pretending to laugh at Michael Strahan‘s jokes or nodding in agreement during another cliche-fest from Tom Jackson. If there was any kind of theme running through Ochocinco’s media session it was this: Despite some evidence to the contrary, he doesn’t think he’s finished as a football player. Could be he’s right, a change of scenery is what’s needed. Maybe he goes to Seattle and catches 50 passes with a quarterback that doesn’t intimidate him with a simple glare.
“It’s football, one abnormal year doesn’t negate years of success,” Ochocinco said. “If I had 100 catches and 1,000 yards, I’d probably be home in January.”
This won’t be J.D. Drew, Redux. If the Patriots beat the Giants it will be the same way they’ve won the other 15 games this season, with zilcho from Ocho. I understand the desire to try to make a connection to Drew’s grand slam, but the reality is a) Drew had a significantly better season in 2007 than Ochocinco in 2011 which meant b) Drew had more chances for that moment. Maybe Ochocinco plays Sunday, maybe he doesn’t, but let’s set the over/under at 4.5 snaps and take the under. He was invisible all season, and he’ll be invisible Sunday.
“Normal, nothing different right now,” Ochocinco said when asked if this week means a change in preparation. “Everything’s the same. Just taking it like a normal day, another day, another week. Just approach it as that.”
And that’s exactly how it will play out, just like a normal NFL Sunday in 2011. Win or lose — and Ochocinco clearly wants a ring badly for himself and his teammates, he’s fully invested if more than slightly frustrated in what has happened — the game will end and Ochocinco will have spent almost all of it on the sideline.
Hard worker, good character guy, all the right intentions. But time to move on.
Welcome to the last Patriots days of Chad Ochocinco.
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