Posted: 5:30 a.m.
As Chad Johnson took a national and local grilling this side of the Fourth of July, his head coach and quarterback jumped to his defense Wednesday.
So did his mentor and father figure Charles Collins, his junior college wide receivers coach. But that didn't stop Collins from teeing up his two most famous pupils after Monday night's spectacle and giving them an hour's tongue-lashing in the most private tirade of the night.
Collins, who worked with Johnson at Santa Monica Junior College, comes to about five Bengals games a year and it was either the good fortune or bad luck of Johnson and T.J. Houshmandzadeh that he showed up a few days before Monday night's game.
After the sideline explosion and Marvin Lewis tirade, Collins took Johnson and Houshmandzadeh into the tunnel away from media and teammates and opened up on them. And then came the ultimate he-didn't-take-them-to-get-something-to-eat-like-he-always-does after a game.
"I really laid into them," Collins said Wednesday, back in California. "I told them that they're a reflection of me and that I was extremely upset with them. And they didn't speak for an hour. I know that they really felt it because they care what I think about them and I just left and came back home. But I got five calls from Chad so I know what that meant. He knows."
Both guys grew up without their father and it's a role Collins takes willingly and lovingly and it's why he crawled all over them.
"I'm very proud of them; as proud as any father could be," Collins said. "(Johnson) understands he has to be more of a professional. He has to realize that so many people are looking at him that he has to be able to channel the emotions.
"Even though they're 28, 29 years old, they are guys still trying to grow and mature," Collins said. "They have to realize what kind of affect they have on the other guys during a game when something like that happens."
When Lewis called his team selfish after Monday night's game, all eyes turned to Johnson, and while Collins said that was unfair, he also knows why.
"It's more a matter of self-expression, but it comes off differently when you're not winning," Collins said. "He wants to win so badly that his emotions just take over. He wears his emotions on his sleeve and it comes off badly. I don't think he's causing (a rift) in the locker room, but I do think it would be easier for guys to follow him if he toned it down. He wants to win more than anything."
Which is pretty much what Lewis and quarterback Carson Palmer said Wednesday on the criticism of Johnson as selfish.
"It's not one guy, but that's the way it is. If it's not Chad, it's me. If it's not me, it's Willie (Anderson). If it's not Willie, it's the D-coordinator. But we win as a team and lose as a team. If anybody points the finger at Chad, they're wrong."
There is the sense that Lewis and Collins believe Johnson brings much of the criticism on himself because of his personality, but the charge, they believe, is baseless once you go deeper.
"It is unfair," Lewis said. "Eyes are focused on him for a lot of different reasons anyway. But it is unfair."
Johnson shook his head Wednesday when he heard of the criticism. That his passion is perceived as selfishness.
"You mean they're saying you can't win like that?" Johnson asked. "When has this offense ever been selfish?"
Collins was furious not only at the jawing on the sidelines with Palmer, but also the interplay with the Patriots. And he really fumed about Johnson chatting with Patriots coach Bill Belichick on the sidelines after a play or two.
"Talking to that guy. Ridiculous. Just wasted energy," Collins said. "Just do your job."
Collins also didn't like how Houshmandzadeh blew his stack over the play-calling and as a coach, he defended offensive coordinator Bob Bratkowski.
"They've got to understand that when Brat is putting the game plan together, things fit and there are reasons for things," Collins said.
Rest assured that they heard all of this in the least attended tirade of Monday night.
And Johnson loves it. In fact, he says he needs it. He needs to be on the edge and he says Palmer is the only one willing to get on him every day.
"There's only one guy I have that's not always patting me on the back and that is No. 9 and I need that," Johnson said. "With Carson being the quarterback, I need him to take that role.
"What they see on TV, they're seeing exactly what I need. I need him in my face to let me know that I messed up. I do the same to him. 'I need a better ball.' It's a good thing."
Rarely does Palmer cite his success or numbers. In fact, never. But when talking about his brotherly relationship with Johnson, he'll remind you they've been good together.
"I'm a passionate player, he's a passionate player," Palmer said. "I expect him to be perfect when he's single-covered or quadruple-covered. He expects me to be perfect whether he's quadruple-covered or single-covered and that's what makes our tandem so good. We've been good for some time now. We've put up good numbers and been successful and it's because we expect so from each other.
"I would hate to be in a situation that if I make a mistake he's OK with it. That's not the case. If I make a mistake, he's on my butt. If he makes a mistake I'm on his butt. I love Chad. Chad loves me. I respect Chad. Chad respects me."
Johnson and Houshmandzadeh are also going to hear it from Collins. Collins is the guy that runs the Phenom Factory in Los Angeles where NFL receivers go to hone their skills in the offseason. Collins bases the camp on focus and attention to the type of detail that can't be jammed into a training camp regimen.
He agreed with Johnson's view of the play that spawned all this, cornerback Asante Samuel's interception on the goal line with 1:14 left in the first half of a 17-7 game.
"Chad misread the coverage," Collins said. "Carson was looking for him to break at a certain point. It comes from not seeing the same thing. Chad didn't see where the safety was from the time he lined up. He took too many steps, got too deep, and didn't cross his face. Carson looked bad and it wasn't Carson's fault."
Collins has been on Johnson for 10 years and he's still going to get om him. He talked to him about four times Tuesday alone.
"Chad needs that edge. He's always got to be out there," Collins said. "When he makes a challenge to the other team or other DB or whatever, he's trying to put pressure on himself, not the other way around."
Thanks to Monday night, Johnson has that pressure now.
But he also has a father figure and No. 9 with him even if it means they're riding him at the same time.
"We're the same way," Johnson with a laugh of Palmer. "Maybe we should have just come to blows on the field."