Deep thinker

Posted: 5:45 a.m.

T.J. Houshmandzadeh isn't saying he's Chris Henry. He's just saying don't be afraid to give him a shot downfield every once in awhile.

"I don't want a woman that just looks good. I need you to look good and have some sense, too," says Houshmandzadeh, who'd like to drop the "possession receiver" tag. "I can do everything.

"I feel like I'm well rounded. Don't pigeon-hole me and give me those five-yard routes, six-yard routes."

Welcome to one of the Great Debates in which Houshmandzadeh is never afraid to engage the coaches. (And don't call it arguing because he'll call it "bad journalism.")

The Bengals look to be going down the field in the first four games more this season than last season, when they were 3-1 and had just one catch of 40 yards. This year they don't have a 40-yarder, but Houshmandzadeh and Chad Johnson each have caught touchdown passes longer than 30, something Houshmandzadeh didn't do until Game 5 and Johnson until Game 9 last season.

And Johnson is averaging 17.7 yards per catch, third-best in the NFL among guys with at least 20 catches.

But Houshmandzadeh, on pace to become the first receiver in NFL history to catch 100 balls for less than 10 yards per catch, is looking to stretch the field even more as the Bengals offense simmers without Henry.

LOWEST YARDS PER 100 RECEPTIONS:

Sterling Sharpe, Packers, 1993, 11.4 for 112, 11 TDs

Not counting the wide-open 35-yard touchdown against Seattle ("Doesn't count; broken coverage," he says), the longest of his 39 catches is 23 yards. Which, he says, was his point to head coach Marvin Lewis on the sidelines against New England.

"When I feel like I can get down the field and help the team win, I'm going to say it," Houshmandzadeh says. "I've got to get on the newspaper guys about (the report) that Marvin and I were arguing. I don't even recall that. We're not arguing."

houshmandzadeh_tj.jpg

Houshmandzadeh

Houshmandzadeh is averaging 9.2 yards per catch. The guy he's trying to catch is the Vikings' Cris Carter, whose 10.3 yards per catch on his 122 receptions in 1994 is the lowest average ever by a wide receiver with at least 100 catches.

The only Bengal to ever catch 100, Carl Pickens in 1996, was the classic possession receiver and he averaged 11.8 from Jeff Blake.

"I don't remember arguing with Marvin," Houshmandzadeh insists. "Bad journalism ... all I'm saying is that if I can get downfield, we can win."

The numbers suggest he's right. Since Palmer became the starter, Houshmandzadeh has seven touchdown catches of at least 30 yards and the Bengals are 5-2 in those games. Johnson has 13 and the Bengals are 7-2.

A guy that everybody thinks can get downfield is Antonio Chatman, who finally had his first extensive action as a Bengal in his second season on Monday night. The last time we saw the 5-8, 180-pound Chatman for any length of time was last season on the winning drive of the Carolina game when he converted a third down and reinjured his groin and was done for the year.

Against the Pats, he caught his first three passes of this season for 28 yards along with what looked to be two drops. But Palmer says, "He can run by anyone," and one of Chatman's mentors, Charles Collins, a former junior college coach of Johnson and Steve Smith, says Chatman has traits of the 5-9 Smith.

"Yeah, I was rusty," Chatman said, thinking back to the dropped curl route. "It was thrown behind me and Carson gave me the tip of his helmet that it was his fault, but I got a hand on it, I should have had it."

Houshmandzadeh says he will.

"He ran it exactly like you're supposed to," Houshmandzadeh says. "I think Carson is used to throwing to (the 6-1 Houshmandzadeh and Johnson). If maybe he was a little taller it would have been right in there. And the second (drop), I thought it was a drop and 'Tone' thought it was a drop, but I was talking to a good friend of mine, (former Bengals cornerback) Keiwan Ratliff, and he said the guy knocked it out. It was just a good play by them."

Chatman, one of the men who has caught Brett Favre's NFL-record career touchdown passes, says he has to be ready when Palmer is firing because "Carson is more accurate" than Favre. "He puts it right there."

The Bengals are still trying to prove they can score consistently without Henry. In the three games he missed last season, they didn't score 20 points. They've scored 20 points three times this season, but they've got just two touchdowns in the last seven quarters.

Houshmandzadeh, meanwhile, on pace for an NFL-record 156 catches, keeps lobbying.

"I'm like a boxer," he says. "If he gets into the ring with somebody who punches harder than him, even if he doesn't punch as hard, he can outbox you. If he gets in the ring with somebody that can really box, he can slug. I feel like I can do it all."

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