CINCINNATI -- They asked Cincinnati Bengals wide receiver Chad Johnson what sort of end-zone celebration he has planned for the Steelers at Heinz Field Sunday.
"Pittsburgh is a steel city, right? It'll have something to do with the steel city theme," Johnson said.
A better question would have been:
Chad, do you think you might actually, you know, get in the end zone this week instead of just talking about it?
Let's be brave here and ask Johnson ourselves.Duane Burleson, Associated Press
Bengals' Chad Johnson
Click photo for larger image.
"I'll tell you why I haven't done more against the Steelers," he said, sniffing. "It's because I have three or four people on me all the time. I look at tape, and I sometimes see four guys on me."
Johnson called the Steelers' defense "exotic." He said linebacker Joey Porter frequently lines up against him to take away the flat, safety Troy Polamalu to take away the intermediary routes and cornerback Ike Taylor to take away the deep balls.
"No one else does that. No one else has the personnel to do it. It's like they play a defense all their own," Johnson said.
"I look at it as a sign of respect. They have only one thought: 'We might get beat, but we're not going to get beat by No. 85.' "
It's worked pretty well for the Steelers.
They are 8-3 against the Bengals since Johnson joined them in 2001.
It's odd because Johnson might be the NFL's best receiver. Certainly, he's no worse than No. 2 on the self-hyped list. (It's all you, T.O.). But he has never done much to hurt the Steelers.
It's 15 quarters and counting since Johnson scored a touchdown against the Steelers. He has had two against them in 11 games. You have to go back to the 2003 game in Pittsburgh to find his most recent 100-yard receiving game against them. He has also had only two of those against them.
It's no wonder Taylor and his pals probably don't buy the argument that Johnson can't be stopped. That's the title of Johnson's new book, by the way. "I Can't Be Stopped." Really. Did I mention this guy is a master at self-promotion?
Taylor probably should thank Johnson for his new $22.5 million contract. With a little help from his friends, he held Johnson to 13 catches for 207 yards in the three games last season. Johnson's one big play -- a 47-yard catch -- came long after the first game was decided in the Steelers' favor.
None of that stopped Johnson from doing his look-at-me thing this week. His original plan was to send copies of his book to the Steelers' defensive backs, much the way he sent bottles of Pepto-Bismol to the Cleveland Browns' secondary before a game in 2004 as a reminder he planned on making them sick. But Johnson changed his mind, deciding instead on a verbal assault on Porter. He promised to "get it on" with Porter at the 50-yard line. He said he'll even imitate Porter by putting on eye black and a beanie and tucking his jersey under his shoulder pads.
"Watch us, it's going to be funny," Johnson said.
Bengals coach Marvin Lewis wasn't laughing.
"I asked Chad, 'Are you going to block Joey? No? Well, then be quiet about Joey,' " Lewis said. "Obviously, he didn't listen to me."
Johnson admitted it's all an act. He knows Porter and the Steelers find him more amusing than offensive. Porter and Hines Ward have been known to hang with him at the Pro Bowl in Hawaii. "I know Joey likes me," Johnson said, grinning.
So why the charade?
"I'm just trying to have fun," Johnson said. "None of it means anything. But trust me, once the game starts, I'm all business. I truly believe I can't be stopped."
Said Lewis, "He does it to get himself going."
It's obvious Lewis deals with Johnson the way Steelers coach Bill Cowher handles Porter. They could do without the rhetoric, but they're hesitant to do anything to harness their player's passion and energy. It means too much to the team.
Much to Johnson's regret, though, he let his emotions beat him at the worst possible time. It happened at halftime of the playoff loss to the Steelers in January. The Bengals led, 17-14, but Johnson knew the game wasn't going well. The Steelers had knocked out quarterback Carson Palmer early with a serious knee injury. Johnson felt as if his team wasn't using him enough. He went off on the coaches. There were reports he choked position coach Hue Jackson and threw a punch at Lewis, accusations denied by all.
"If Chad Johnson ever put me in a headlock, I'd beat him half silly," Jackson is quoted in Johnson's book.
"Chad throwing a punch? You've got to be kidding? That's not his m.o.," Lewis said this week.
Still, the Bengals were infuriated with Johnson.
"We had the lead, and he was out of it mentally," offensive coordinator Bob Bratkowski is quoted in Johnson's book. "Great players don't allow that to happen."
Asked about the incident yesterday, Johnson said, "It was a time when we really needed to come together as a team, and I let us down. It was just frustration. It was immaturity on my part. I've learned from it and moved on."
You might want to clip that. It's a rare piece of contrition from Johnson.
"Ah, he's really a good kid," Lewis said. "He's harmless."
That's a good word to describe the Porter talk, the Pepto-Bismol bottles and the end-zone celebrations.
Unfortunately for the Bengals, it also describes Johnson's performances against the Steelers.
Ron Cook can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1525.