Updated: 11-27-08, 7:50 a.m.
It takes a lot to impress the street-savvy T.J. Houshmandzadeh, who knows the league like the back of his hands that are trying to snatch a rare second straight NFL receiving title.
But it sounded like this one got him Wednesday because he's even closer to another unique list.
HoushmandzadehWith five games left he's 23 catches away from becoming just the eighth player in NFL history to put up back-to-back 100-catch seasons and the first since Randy Moss caught 106 and then 111 for the 2002-03 Vikings.
"Minnesota?" Houshmandzadeh asked. "Damn, that's a long time. I would have thought it would have been done since then."
He guessed Torry Holt as the last one to do it, but he never has. Then he guessed Larry Fitzgerald, and if he catches 28 balls the rest of the way than he can join Houshmandzadeh and probably Wes Welker, the Patriots wide receiver that has 80 this season after tying Houshmandzadeh for the receiving title last year with 112.
"Eighth guy in history?" Houshmandzadeh asked. "I wouldn't say it means a lot to me, but only seven guys have done it. A little bit. A little bit. Maybe, when not a lot of people have done it."
Then he'll like this: Only two receivers have won back-to-back NFL receiving titles in the last 27 years and the last time was in 1992-93 when Green Bay's Sterling Sharpe did it back when Brett Favre was pitching spirals instead of soap operas.
But look at that list of back-to-back 100 catchers.
Four of them (Jerry Rice, Cris Carter, Marvin Harrison, Randy Moss) are sure-fire Hall of Famers. (Sorry, Sterling, but brother Shannon had more career catches as a tight end.)
That's not to say Houshmandzadeh is going to Canton, but the NFL Record and Fact Book ain't bad for a seventh-rounder.
"I would say I would be surprised," said offensive coordinator Bob Bratkowski of the stat. "The quarterbacks trust him. Both Carson and Ryan know where he's going to be with his routes all the time. Therefore, he's going to get a lot of balls."
Long before this season Bratkowski and Houshmandzadeh have had some pitched battles over what Houshmandzadeh feels are his lack of big-play chances. Last season he had a career-low 10.2 yards per catch and this year it's a miniscule 9.7 for about as many reasons.
"When you're in the slot you're not going to get downfield very often," Bratkowski said. "You'll get 25, 35 yards, but you're not going to get that 70, 80 yards unless you break tackles and bounce off people and go. Because there is generally a safety in the middle or two safeties back there.
What Bratkowski values in Houshmandzadeh is his ability to play all three spots, which became a huge luxury Thursday night in Pittsburgh with Chad Ocho Cinco out of the lineup and the little-used Glenn Holt and rookie Andre Caldwell pressed into service. The only other guys that can play all three spots in the system are Holt, Caldwell and Antonio Chatman. But Chatman was on IR and Holt and Caldwell just haven't played that much.
So Bratkowski was able to bounce Houshmandzadeh all over the place and make things easier for the two kids "because of his knowledge and experience." And it's a good thing because Bratkowski has to move him around more to get him open.
"They're doing a lot of different things to him because they know the ball is coming his way," he said of foes. "And he still finds ways to defeat it."
Yet Bratkowski says Houshmandzadeh's biggest contribution "over the years" has to be his work on third down. This year Houshmandzadeh has caught nearly as many third-down balls (27) as Ocho Cinco has caught on every down with 41.
"Those are big plays," Bratkowski said. "It may not be big in length, but certainly big in giving the offense another set of downs."
And big as in another NFL stat lead. Those 27 catches are six more than second-place Roddy White and Jason Witten.
"It all comes down to opportunity; that's it," Houshmandzadeh said.
This one probably won't impress him. With eight more catches, he'll have 500 career catches. But 101 receivers have already done that.
As for the race to back-to-back 100, Welker's 80 trails NFL leader Andre Johnson of Houston by one. Arizona's Fitzgerald, who had 100 last year, is in fifth place with 72, one behind teammate Anquan Boldin. Denver's Brandon Marshall is a longshot to do it again with five games left. He's got 67 receptions after catching 102 in '02.
Baltimore's Derrick Mason, matched up against Houshmandzadeh this Sunday at Paul Brown Stadium, isn't going to get there with 56 catches after his 103-catch season. The Colts' Reggie Wayne has also got some ground to make up with 58 catches. He and Houshmandzadeh meet next Sunday in Indianapolis.
And then after that?
Houshmandzadeh has said since the season started that the longer he goes without a contract extension the less likely he'll be here next year. He reiterarated the thoughts in Wednesday's conference call with the Baltimore media.
"Yeah, I'm open to everything because I figure I want to win," Houshmandzadeh said. "I think Cincinnati can win here, but it's a tough situation. When you haven't signed a contract up until that point, and it's sad to think like this, but your own mindset tells you that you're going to leave because you haven't signed a deal."
CONSECUTIVE SEASONS WITH 100 RECEPTIONS (Compiled by Elias Sports Bureau)
4 - Harrison, Marvin; 1999-2002 3 - Moore, Herman; 1995-1997 3 - Rice, Jerry; 1994-1996 2 - Moss, Randy; 2002-2003 2 - Smith, Rod; 2000-2001 2 - Carter, Cris; 1994-1995 2 - Sharpe, Sterling; 1992-1993