INDIANAPOLIS -- Chad Ochocinco has become for fans and media what he has not been for Patriots quarterback Tom Brady this season -- an easy target.
The ex-extroverted wide receiver has been chastised and chastened after catching 15 passes for 276 yards and one touchdown during the regular season.
His contributions in the playoffs have been skimpier than the attire in the Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue. If Ochocinco catches a pass in Super Bowl XLVI against the New York Giants, it will be his first reception of the postseason (he was inactive for the AFC title game after attending his father's funeral, and he played one snap against Denver).
After all those years of look-at-me-antics and ceaseless self-promotion, Ochocinco is finally at the mecca of the football world, but preaching it's really not about him. He's left the diva role at the Super Bowl to Madonna."Everybody, of course myself also, is emphasizing individual statistics this year about me not having a great season, me not producing in my normal way," said Ochocinco. "But for some reason it’s just so odd that I changed my ways, I approach the situation a lot differently and all the sudden I finally get to that stage.
"What do you want to take? One hundred catches, 1,000 yards and be at home enjoying watching from home, or not have the same numbers and have a chance of playing on the biggest stage of your life. What do you want? There’s one of them I've already done. This is something I’ve never done."
It's hard to tell if Ochocinco is trying to convince us or himself that playing a bit part on a winner trumps being the center of attention.
Even Brady said on media day that he hoped Ochocinco felt a part of the team's success.
"I'm on the 53-man roster. I'm part of it," said Ochocinco. "Again, the focal point, rightfully so, is on the individual numbers. This time it's coming from y'all. If it was the other way around I would get scrutinized for wanting the ball because I would be selfish and disgruntled. That would take care of the individual part, so there would be nothing to aim at. Everybody is aiming at the individual part, which I don't control. I learned maybe four or five years ago to stop fussing about things that are out of your control.
"That's what I've done, which was why I was quiet this year. There was really nothing for me to say. When my number was called I did my best to make that play."
It's a tad hypocritical for Ochocinco to claim it's the media that put the focus on him after he spent 10 seasons as the game's preeminent self-promoter. But he has a valid point.
Everyone is so caught up in what he hasn't done on the field that no one is crediting him for what he has done -- defy his diva wide receiver label and avoid being a distraction.
The king of 140-character missives has made a statement by showing his character.
"Chad has been outstanding in our meeting room. He's been very positive. I can't say enough about him as a person," said wide receivers coach Chad O'Shea.
"I didn't know him, so I didn't have a perception of him. I just know that since he walked in our door he's been outstanding in terms of trying to do everything we've asked him to do. I know that he's well-liked and well-respected in our locker room because of the way he's conducted himself."
Ochocinco hasn't lashed out about his lack of opportunity or productivity. There have been no sideline tantrums or selfish media ultimatums. He hasn't worn out his welcome like the Patriots' other high-profile off-season acquisition, Albert Haynesworth, or checked out like Randy Moss.
"I could have messed that feeling up a long time ago, complaining," Ochocinco said. "What's after New England? This is the best of the best. It's like dating Oprah. You lose Oprah and what the [expletive] is next?"
A quote with an expletive and an Oprah allusion? Ah, there's a glimpse of the old Chad. Maybe, it will translate to some vintage Ochocinco on the field on Sunday.
Probably not though, because Ochocinco was frank about the fact that after 18 games he does not have the trust of TB12, the death knell for any Patriots pass catcher. Ocho blamed the lockout for being at a loss.
"That two or three months that I would have had time to learn the system, to earn the trust of Brady, to get that timing down," he said. I think so many people think you get out there, you run the route, you get open. ... It doesn't work like that. There is a system. There is a way things are done. There is a Patriot Way. Until I get to doing it that right way consistently nine times out of 10 that's when everything comes in the flow.
"There was a time where [former Bengals QB] Carson [Palmer] could drop back with his eyes closed and throw the ball, and he'd know where I'd be. I need to be on that page with Brady."
The general assumption is that Sunday will be Ochocinco's swan song in New England, even though he's under contract for two more seasons. He disagreed.
"The first year of marriage is always rough. Going into next year I think it'll be a lot better."
Even if his Patriots' career is the equivalent of unholy matrimony, Ochocinco should be commended for conforming at all costs.
When he was traded to the Patriots after 10 seasons in Cincinnati, two playoff appearances and zero playoff wins, he said all he wanted was a chance to win, and he'd be content.
The smile is forced and veiled at this point, but even as a man of few words this season, Ochocinco has kept his word.
...That's what the Patriots have when it comes to picks in the 2013 NFL Draft, which starts Thursday. After all those years of stockpiling picks the way a survivalist does non-perishables the Patriots have just five picks in this year's draft, thanks to Band-aid trades for Albert Haynesworth, Chad Ochocinco and Aqib Talib. Five picks would be the fewest draft picks in franchise history. (Part of that is attributable to the trimming of the draft to just seven rounds in 1994). Further complicating matters is that two of the Patriots' greatest needs are at wide receiver and cornerback, positions where they have sustained draft droughts. With that in mind, I'm convinced the Patriots are going trade back out of the first round of a quanity-over-quality draft where you're just as likely to pick a Pro Bowl player in the second and third round as you are in the first round.