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J.P. standing for 'Just a pro'

J.P. Foschi led the Bengals with 44 yards receiving Sunday in Cleveland. (AP photo)

Posted: 8:30 p.m.

Fellow tight end Tony Stewart, a good friend of J.P. Foschi, still was amazed. Foschi, not even a Bengal for two months, had been the team?s leading receiver in their latest win with 44 yards on a day The Ocho had two touchdowns.

And, not only that, Foschi had caught Carson Palmer?s longest pass of the day, a 27-yarder that woke the dormant Bengals offense with a start just in time to help tie the Browns in the last two minutes Sunday.

?Was it Schobel-esque?? asked Stewart, referring to another friend, the former Bengals big-play tight end, Matt Schobel. ?That just goes to show you, they?ve been bringing in guys to help with the passing game the last couple of years, but you don?t have to run 4.5. He?s smart, reliable and does his job. When you get him, you?re going to get everything he?s got. He?s blue-collar, just the kind of guy you need to win.?

John Paul Foschi, who once took a cooking class in Florence, Italy, called the 27-yarder the biggest catch of his career and while it looked like it came on a simple seam route, the ingredients were a lot spicier than that.

It was a route that began in 2004, knocked around underneath for a couple of years with a couple of teams, took a sideline hook to Italy for a year when he semi-retired, and got on course to the post back on this past Aug. 17 when the Bengals called Foschi just a day after the Raiders cut him.

The pass also showed where the Bengals were Sunday in a game they trailed, 20-14, and it shows what they are offensively as they head to Sunday?s AFC North showdown in Baltimore. The tight ends are inexperienced, the offensive line young, and offensive coordinator Bob Bratkowski is using a brew of formations and personnel groups to bulk up the running game and ease the pressure off everybody in the passing game, especially quarterback Carson Palmer.

Which is a reason why Foschi, in his 25th NFL game, started Sunday and five-time Pro Bowl wide receiver Chad Ochoncinco didn?t in what amounted to a three tight-end set of Foschi, Daniel Coats and extra tackle Dennis Roland.

?It gives us some good matchup possibilities. It gives us a strong running formation you can still throw out of,? Bratkowski said. ?We?ve used it in every game. It?s just a part of the combination of things. It?s just one aspect of it. It?s a part of the changes we?ve made offensively. Another way to generate more run game. Another thing for the defense to work on. It?s just a part of having a variety of packages.?

The first play was a 19-yarder to Coats and the second play, with The Ocho back on the field for Roland, was an eight-yarder to Foschi. Later in the game, Bratkowski proved he would throw deep out of it, too, but Palmer threw an interception going to wide receiver Laveranues Coles.

That was a common sight because the Bengals wideouts were blanketed much of the day and when they weren?t, nobody did much against one-on-one coverage. With the Browns daring Palmer to throw it to the backs and tight ends, he calmly did for 14 of his 23 completions for 120 of his 230 yards.

How different is this offense? The last two games Palmer played the Browns and Romeo Crennel?s deep zones in 2007, he went to his backs and tight ends a combined 11 times.

Foschi, a National Honor Society guy in high school at Chaminade on Long Island who grew up in Glen Head and a building construction major at Georgia Tech, didn?t blink when he got the playbook. Although he says he?s still picking up things, he says he had the basics of the offense down in about 10 days.

?I figured if I didn?t learn this offense immediately," said Foschi, who arrived in the wake of season-ending injuries to the top two tight ends, ?I was going to be on the streets.?

But the reason the Bengals signed him is because he?d been around and the word was he?s a guy that could pick it up. He had just 11 catches in 21 games before this season, but he?s 27 and been with five clubs before this one. At 6-3, 265 pounds, he's never had great receiving stats and is probably best known as a blocker. But he allowed Sunday in the visitors locker room that he hasn't seen the ball this much since college, and that was only 24 catches at the most.

?I?m still getting comfortable finding my role,? he said. ?I like what they?re asking from me and I?m just trying to produce every time I come to work. Just be a responsible veteran player.?

If that sounds like Stewart, it?s because it does. As Bratkowski said, ?He?s been a pleasant surprise. He studies, he?s tough and nothing has been too big for him. The guy?s a true pro.?

That?s why when Foschi returned to the Raiders this offseason after playing seven games with Kansas City last season, he and Stewart were a natural pair.

?We hit it off. I really like his professionalism and his work ethic,? Foschi said. ?I mean, the guy is always there. We have the same kind of approach.?

They also have wives due the same week in December (the Stewarts? fourth child, the Foschis? first), so they?ve kept up and continue to text and talk. The bond has been tightened since Stewart was a Bengals staple from 2002-06 as a backup tight end, special teams guru and NFLPA player rep.

?I told him when he got cut and picked up by Cincinnati, it was going to be the best thing that ever happened to his career,? Stewart said. ?He?s in a situation where they?ll use his strengths and he?s got a coach (Jon Hayes) that will show him a lot of things. What I love about him is his aggressiveness and passion for football and for life.?

Foschi said he knew when he saw what the team needed from him that he would get an opportunity. And he doesn?t take it lightly. A free agent out of Tech in 2004, the hometown Jets signed him before cutting him after training camp and he bounced to two more teams before ending up on the Raiders practice squad. He played in 10 games in 2005, but when he got cut in ?06 after playing just one game he pretty much retired when he didn?t get another call.

He used 2007 to travel to Florence, where he spent four and a half months driving around Europe on the weekends and wondering if he should continue playing.

?I didn?t want to regret not taking that last shot, so I was lucky enough to get a tryout in Kansas City,? he said. ?I?m still very young, only 27.?

So far, the Bengals have liked watching him grow up.

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