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FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- When it was over and he had conducted short one-on-one interviews with a few reporters, veteran receiver Chad Ochocinco turned to a team official and asked if his effort would suffice.
The question confirmed the obvious. This wasn't something he wanted to do.
|Although he scored his first touchdown on Sunday, Chad Ochocinco has struggled to get on the same page with Tom Brady.|
In 10 seasons with the Cincinnati Bengals, the playful Ochocinco never seemed shy about producing a soundbite, but it's been different here. He's kept a low profile with the traditional media in his first season with the New England Patriots, a campaign that hasn't produced the heavenly individual statistics he envisioned but has delivered what he said he truly wanted -- a chance to play for a winner.
On Tuesday, Ochocinco changed his route with the media. Begrudgingly so.
In part because the NFL mandates players be available to reporters, and they could be subject to fines if they aren't, he fielded a few questions while mostly staring into his locker. This wasn't the welcoming Ochocinco who has attracted more than three million followers to his Twitter account, where he controls the message and has helped teammates Wes Welker and Aaron Hernandez set up personal accounts in recent days. This was the "why-are-you-twisting-my arm?" Ochocinco.
The reason, of course, was because he'd made some of his most meaningful contributions to the team in Sunday's 41-23 win over the Denver Broncos, catching a 33-yard touchdown pass in the first quarter and working hard as a downfield blocker on Hernandez's 46-yard catch-and-run. In all, Ochocinco played 54 snaps (including penalties) in place of injured No. 2 receiver Deion Branch, his highest total since the third week of the season in Buffalo.
On Tuesday, Ochocinco said the extended playing time, the TD catch and everything else is "all cool." He then spoke with emotion when asked about having his desire to play on a winning team met.
"That's [expletive] awesome," he said. "That's all this is about."
In other words, don't bother asking about his lower-than-expected production, the 14 receptions and one touchdown, or why he's been targeted by quarterback Tom Brady only 29 times all year.
"Everybody is focused on one thing," Ochocinco said, referring to the stats. "But my mind is on a bigger picture and nobody seems to realize it yet. That's why you haven't heard anything from me."
Fair enough. For all the heat Ochocinco has taken from the media for failing to emerge and become one of Brady's trusted targets -- the expectations raised even higher based on the $6 million he's receiving in 2011 between signing bonus and base salary -- he should also get credit for falling into line and working to fit into the Patriots' program.
Ochocinco has made it about the Patriots, not himself, which some doubted was possible when New England acquired him. And one of the ways he's been able to do so is by no longer feeding the monster he created. Ochocinco knows that usually when he talks to the press, the story is about him, not the team.
So he's shut it down.
On Tuesday, in brief remarks, Ochocinco described the 2011 season as "a very good experience," adding that "it's been a joy."
Still, somewhere between the 8 and the 5 on the front of his jersey, something has to poke at Ochocinco's heart that he hasn't produced big. The connection with Brady has been a struggle for most of the season, one recent example coming in the Broncos' game when Ochocinco cut off his route up the left sideline and Brady still threw deep. They just haven't been able to put it together.
The old Ochocinco might have called for the ball more or created waves. The new Ochocinco doesn't even consider it.
The only reason Ochocinco is a story is that he could have been facing fines if he didn't make himself available. That explains why he stepped forth Tuesday, painting a rosy picture about how individual stats don't matter, but 11 wins do.
He said it's all he ever wanted.
Mike Reiss covers the Patriots for ESPNBoston.com.