Late Thursday, the New England Patriots acquired Chad Ochocinco from the Cincinnati Bengals for a couple of late round draft picks. The move consummates what has been a mutual love-fest between head coach Bill Belichick and the flamboyant wide receiver which dates back to the 2006 Pro Bowl.
Ian R. Rapoport of the Boston Herald has a quote from Belichick from August of 2009 in which he raves about Ochocinco saying, “He’s a fun loving guy, very competitive. When he’s on the field, he loves to compete and he works very hard, practices hard. He challenges guys in every situation. I respect that, I think he’s a terrific player. I love his competitiveness.”
Despite Ochocinco’s penchant for tweeting, and his much publicized endzone antics, no one can question that competitiveness and determination. This is a guy, after all, who put it all out on the line competing on “Dancing with the Stars.” Viewers of that show were privy to his drive and determination, practicing and performing in order to win a dance competition.
If you are among his over two million Twitter followers, you’ve witnessed his competitveness. He’s been known to challenge his followers to play him in video games such as FIFA soccer. If he loses, he’ll grumble about opposing online players cheating.
This competitive streak is wherein lies the difference between he and Randy Moss, who many fans have been looking for a viable replacement since Moss’ departure early in the 2010-11 season. While both wide receivers are super talented, Moss has the edge talent-wise solely based on his unique, freakish physical attributes. The problem with Moss was that he chose not to always utilize those attributes.
The Patriots will not have that problem with Ochocinco. He comes to play every day. While he does not have the down the field explosiveness of a Randy Moss, he is a more precise route runner and a more reliable pass receiver.
Ochocinco’s statistics have, however, been in decline the last three seasons. It remains to be seen if that decline is attributed to a diminished skills or to a frustration of working with an inconsistent and oft-injured quarterback in Carson Palmer. These past few months, via Twitter (@ochocinco), Ochocinco has posted several not-too-subtle shots at his now former quarterback.
The biggest concern for Bill Belichick, and not necessarily the fans or the media, will be the coach’s ability to rein in Ochocinco’s publicity seeking antics. This is a player who hungers for the media spotlight. He is now paired up with a coach who benched his star wide receiver, Wes Welker, for the opening series of a playoff game for making innocuous foot references mocking Jets head coach Rex Ryan.
Ochocinco’s popularity blossomed thanks to his deriving different ways to celebrate his touchdown receptions, back in the day when he used to be more prolific at scoring touchdowns (only four last year). While, hopefully, Ochocinco’s visits to the end zone will be more frequent now that he is catching passes from Tom Brady, do not expect any grandiose celebrations (such as joining the Minutemen in shooting off a salute) in the end zone at Foxboro.
So while many Patriots fans are excited about Ochocinco donning a Patriots uniform (presumably with the number 85, currently worn by second-year tight end Aaron Hernandez), I am tempering my enthusiasm. If Chad Ochocinco’s name was something more austere like John Smith, and his personality far more introverted, would Patriots fans be as excited at acquiring a 33-year-old wide receiver who has caught only four touchdowns in two of the last three years? Would pursuing a younger wide receiver free agent like a Sidney Rice, or even a Malcolm Floyd, been a more prudent move, if not less exciting?
While I am not as concerned about Ochocinco fitting in with the Patriots as I am perturbed by troubled defensive lineman Albert Haynesworth, acquired earlier in the same day, I still have my reservations as to whether Ochocinco can acclimate himself to the “Patriots Way.” I can easily envision in my mind, as if I were watching it on the television screen right now, Ochocinco hustling to the huddle, slightly hunchbacked, with his palms raised, pleading to Tom Brady, “I was open on that play.” Just as easily, I can see Ochocinco on the sidelines, helmet in hand, hands on hips, chirping in Belichick’s ear (Belichick’s headset slightly askew) that he needs to get him the ball more often.
Those visuals of Ochocinco would stand in stark contrast to those of a Randy Moss sitting desolately, wearing a hooded parka, at the end of the Patriots’ bench. Yet both those types of players can be equally disruptive.