Johnson getting the ball, having big games
November 23, 2006 8:05pm CST
Chad Johnson's grousing got results. After putting up first-half numbers that were merely above average -- and complaining that he wasn't getting the ball more -- the Cincinnati Bengals' big-play receiver has put together two of the best games in NFL history. Johnson set a club record with 260 yards receiving and a pair of touchdowns in a loss to San Diego, then had 190 yards and three more touchdowns in a 31-16 win at New Orleans last Sunday. The 450 yards in back-to-back games are the most in league history. It's what he's wanted the whole season. "We're being more the aggressor, offensively, regardless of what the coverage is," Johnson said Wednesday. "That makes it a lot more fun out there." The first eight games were no fun at all. The Pro Bowl receiver who led the AFC in yards for three straight seasons had trouble getting open and getting the ball. He complained that the offense had gone conservative and stopped challenging defenses with the long pass. He wasn't the only one grumbling -- running back Rudi Johnson wanted more carries, right tackle Willie Anderson wanted to see more toughness, safety Dexter Jackson wanted to see more effort. Given his stature, Chad Johnson's complaints became the soundtrack to a 4-4 first half. He disgustedly referred to himself a sitting duck, a hood ornament, a decoration. He stopped checking off his "Who Covered No. 85" list. He put "Ocho Cinco" on his uniform for a pregame warmup, boasted that a big game was at hand, then slipped into a self-imposed silence as it all fell apart. In the last two weeks, he has stopped complaining and stuck to catching passes. "It's good to have the old Chad here and (that other) No. 85 gone elsewhere -- the superhero," coach Marvin Lewis said. "He was here too long this season. I think he got started that way in the offseason. So it's good that the other guy is back, the guy that makes his teammates better. That's what a pro is all about -- make the rest of your team better." Several factors have combined to put Johnson back atop the AFC in receiving with 932 yards. At the season's midpoint, the Bengals decided to let offensive coordinator Bob Bratkowski call more plays instead of having Carson Palmer choose from a limited number of options in a no-huddle attack. Plus, there was a renewed effort to try to get the ball deep. Also, the Chargers and the Saints made the mistake of losing track of Johnson when Palmer scrambled, setting up big plays. Johnson took advantage of the defensive lapses with touchdown catches of 51, 74, 41, 60 and 4 yards in the last two games. "You always try to throw the ball over teams' heads," Palmer said. "You just have to pick your times to do it. A couple times in the past couple weeks, it's been weird -- they've blown coverages and been way out of place. There's nothing fancy to what we did. It was just a miscommunication defensively to what they did. "We took advantage of it, but we can't rely on that. The teams you need to beat to get in the playoffs and beat in the playoffs don't let that happen." The next game will be a good test of whether Johnson is really back on track. The Cleveland Browns (3-7) usually focus on stopping him, forcing the Bengals to run the ball or throw it to someone else. Johnson had six catches for 78 yards and a touchdown during a 34-17 win over the Browns at Paul Brown Stadium in the second game of the season. It was his only touchdown catch in the first six games. He also got knocked silly on the Bengals' final pass play, when safety Brian Russell hit him high. Johnson's helmet flew off, and he was groggy when he came off the field and got about a half-dozen stitches in his chin. Johnson later joked about the hit, saying he made himself a target with all of his trash talk and opponent-baiting antics. He once sent bottles of Pepto-Bismol to Cleveland defensive backs before a game. Asked on Wednesday what he'll say to Russell when they meet again, Johnson smiled sheepishly and said: "I'm sorry." Sorry? "Yeah. I just don't feel like getting hit like that no more," Johnson said. Since he started getting the ball more, Johnson has talked about himself less. He answered some questions on Wednesday with a shake of the head instead of a torrent of boast. "Like they always say, it's a team game," Johnson said. He doesn't usually say that.