Johnson sees only 19 catches in six games as punishment for mouthing off
Two of the more outspoken receivers in the NFL -- Chad Johnson, left, and the Cowboys' Terrell Owens -- talk shop before a game earlier this month.
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Marvin Lewis, who grew up in the small Washington County town of McDonald, said there were tougher jobs than being the head coach of a winless NFL team.
"There is no question it has been difficult, but it is what I do," said the coach of the 0-6 Cincinnati Bengals yesterday. "My dad spent 30 years in the steel mill, and this is a piece of cake compared to that."
His job, though, won't get any easier Sunday when, without former Pro Bowl quarterback Carson Palmer, his 0-6 Bengals play the 4-1 Steelers at Paul Brown Stadium. And Chad Johnson, a.k.a. Chad Ocho Cinco, has not made the road any smoother for him.
Johnson tried to force the Bengals to trade him early this year by threatening to sit out the season. Yesterday, in a conference call with Pittsburgh reporters, he suggested that his diminished receptions might be punishment for those actions.
"I think that may be part of why my production is down this year. To rant and rave in the offseason like that and then come back and expect to be productive, or to expect them to use me the same way that they used me in the past, is very unlikely.
"Right now, I made my bed and I have to live in it. ... There is nothing wrong with me, but it is probably deserving because of my actions in the offseason. It is like somewhat of a punishment. When you open your mouth, this is what you get. I understand that. When opportunities come, I am going to make the plays."
Johnson has 19 receptions for 216 yards and one touchdown, compared with Cincinnati's leading receiver, T.J. Houshmandzadeh's 38 receptions for 400 yards and three touchdowns. Johnson has caught between 87 and 97 passes per season since 2003.
Johnson, though, isn't the only Bengals' player lacking production. Cincinnati's once-prolific offense ranks dead last in the 32-team NFL. The Bengals cut veteran running back Rudi Johnson, now with Detroit, and Chris Perry leads them with 253 yards in six games with a 2.6-yard average. They released veteran tackle Willie Anderson, now with Baltimore, and their line is a mess -- they've allowed 19 sacks, and their running game averages just 3.1 yards a carry.
What happened to the team that seemed to be ready to surpass the Steelers as the strength of the division as recently as 2006?
The Bengals, after winning the AFC North in 2005 and losing to the Steelers in a memorable playoff game in Cincinnati, started the 2006 season at 8-5. They needed one win to make the playoffs but lost their final three, including the season-ender in Heinz Field to keep them out, and haven't been the same since.
They are 7-18 since that 8-5 start, and the hole they've dug this year is likely too deep for them to rebound to make the playoffs.
"Our morale is good," Lewis contended. "Our team is in good shape. We are a little beat up over the last three weeks; we were moving along pretty healthy, and we got some dings over the last couple of weeks. But our morale is good."
If true, at least there's something good on the Bengals. They did extend the New York Giants into overtime on the road and had the Cowboys on the ropes before losing in Dallas. Their biggest loss came by 24-7 to Tennessee at home.
"The only way that we are going to play ourselves out of this hole is by actually playing the way that we are used to playing," Johnson said. "We aren't doing it all."
It's unlikely to happen Sunday against the Steelers. Harvard grad Ryan Fitzpatrick and his 0-5 record will start at quarterback for Cincinnati instead of former Pro Bowler Carson Palmer.
Can the Bengals upset the Steelers with Fitzpatrick at quarterback?
"Ahhh," Johnson said as he pondered the question for several seconds. "We would have to play very sound football to do it. ... In order for us to beat them, whether we are playing at our home or theirs, we have to play darned near perfect football.''
At least the player arrests have died down -- there has been none since wide receiver Chris Henry was arrested early in April and accused of punching a man and throwing a beer bottle through the window of his car. It was his latest of several run-ins with the law, and the Bengals quickly released him. Lewis said he would never return, but then owner Mike Brown re-signed him, undercutting his coach.
For the second consecutive season, Henry started out with a four-game suspension and has one catch.
The Bengals also have lost the first two picks of the '05 draft, linebackers David Pollack (injury) and Odell Thurman (released, off-field issues), and the second pick of the '07 draft, running back Kenny Irons, to a torn ACL.
Lewis' job, though, seems safe. He's signed through 2010, and Mike Brown does not normally fire coaches he owes money; and Lewis will be owed about $7.5 million over those seasons. The mess in Cincinnati also is not generally regarded there as Lewis' doing.
"Coach Lewis runs the show, and we respect him and buy into his philosophy and formula," Johnson said. "His formula is that there is no substitute for getting out of this hole; we have to go out there and work."
First Published October 16, 2008 12:00 am