Even as Marvin Lewis expresses optimism about coming back to coach next season, Sunday’s game against the Chargers still has an end-of-era feel to it at Paul Brown Stadium.
It is the era that started with the win over the undefeated Chiefs on Nov. 16, 2003 and spanned two division titles, two home playoff games, four Monday night games, two deaths, and a marriage proposal. Euphoria. Heartbreak. Celebrity. Injury. Headlines. Prayers. You name it, whatever you want to call it (The Marvin Era, The Carson Decade, The Age of Chad) it has had a little bit of everything for the Reality TV generation.
The conventional wisdom is that Lewis wants some changes if he’s going to return and Palmer is so beat up and frustrated one day shy of his 31st birthday that there have to be changes. It can be assumed that Bengals president Mike Brown isn’t happy, either. That’s where the guessing game starts.
In the end, he’s the guy that loaded up for this season. He signed two big-money receivers. He made defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer the highest-paid assistant coach in club history. He re-signed all the veterans on both sides of the ball, took Zimmer’s recommendation to sign cornerback Adam Jones (Zimmer took responsibility for what turned out to be a solid move), and Palmer’s recommendation for Terrell Owens. The fact that all he got out of it was a top three draft pick can’t sit well with Brown.
Even if Lewis comes back, there’s a sense this chapter is closed. Lewis and Palmer can mold young guns like Carlos Dunlap, Michael Johnson, Geno Atkins, Rey Maualuga, Jermain Gresham, Andre Caldwell, Jordan Shipley, Bernard Scott and Jerome Simpson as the roster balance shifts to a new generation. Has a Bengals era ever ended with such young talent? The offseason question has to be how to grow it.
Heightening the end-of-era feel is the CW and guesswork that wide receiver Chad Ochocinco won’t be back for an 11th season at age 33, making Sunday the end of The Age of Chad. If this it, what a run.
Never mind he did things no Bengals receiver has ever done, such as catch 10,000 yards (10,783) and 750 balls (751), and go to six Pro Bowls. But he also did things no NFL receiver did, such as leading his conference in receiving yards four straight seasons from 2003 to 2006, while becoming a mainstream celebrity in popular culture.
The debate is always going to be if that celebrity got in the way of his game. He’s a borderline Hall of Famer, but did his emotion and passion cross the line too many times? There are arguments either way.
His performance in big games is mixed. His numbers in the eight Decembers under Lewis are 14 touchdowns in 32 games with 149 catches for 2,050 yards. That’s 13.8 yards per catch for an average of 4.7 catches and 64 yards per game. That is less than his career averages of 14.4 yards per catch with an average of five catches for 71 yards per game.
Maybe not that big of a difference, but in an era in which the Bengals were oh-so-close, a difference just the same. In his two playoff games, he caught just six balls for 87 yards and no touchdowns. The talk shows and national pundits raged the Bengals would be better without him.
But he did come up big in some big moments. In the two home games the Bengals had to absolutely win to win the division - Cleveland in 2005 and Kansas City in 2009 - The Ocho bailed them put in the last seconds. Tied 20-20 with the Browns, he drew two pass-interference penalties to set up a last-snap field goal. Last year with the Bengals tied with the Chiefs at 10-10, he made a falling-back touchdown catch of Palmer’s six-yard bullet on third down with 2:03 left to win it. And in that December run he caught a TD in four straight games.
There were about three or four years there when no one could cover him. Ask a rookie Adam Jones about the game Ochocinco stole in the fourth quarter from the Titans in Tennessee in a huge over-the-hump win in ’05.
As usual with The Ocho, it’s never cut-and-dried. There are always a couple of layers to it, which makes him so damn fun.
If this is it, that may be the way to remember him. Don’t give yourself a headache trying to win a debate. He has been the leading receiver and one of the top NFL players on some of the best Bengals teams, and he made you smile at some point along the way.
It may not be a Super Bowl or Hall of Fame legacy. But it’s a hell of a legacy just the same.
Tags: Chad Ochocinco, end of erra ochocinco
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