Following his game-winning touchdown Ochocinco honors late teammate Chris Henry. (AP photo)
Posted: 7:30 p.m.
Bengals wide receiver Chad Ochocinco took a lot of heat for his play in the playoff loss in 2005 and in the final three-game losing streak that knocked the Bengals out of the playoffs in 2006.
But with the AFC North title on the line Sunday at Paul Brown Stadium with 2:03 left and the Bengals locked in a 10-10 game with Kansas City looking at a third-and-goal from the Chiefs 6, The Ocho delivered one of the most clutch plays in Bengals history. He adjusted on a Carson Palmer dart thrown a tad behind him with a leaning, falling catch that put him on his back and the Bengals into the playoffs.
"You have to be smart with (Palmer) and 85," said Chiefs linebacker Mike Vrabel, who had his share of clutch moments with the Patriots. "They have other weapons. (Laveranues) Coles is a good receiver, as is (Andre) Caldwell. The reason they are winning games is that they are more balanced than Bengals teams before were. Carson used to throw the ball 50 times, and if he completed 30 or 40 passes, they would win. If he didn't, they would lose. They are a lot more balanced now. They are able to dictate the flow of the game."
Against an all-out blitz and man-to-man coverage, The Ocho cut short his route across the face of cornerback Brandon Flowers and made himself available in the middle of the end zone. As if to one-up his December critics, the catch tied the Ocho's record of four straight games with at least a touchdown to match a streak he set in 2004.
"They came out in the stack and I couldn't come up and press against Chad," Flowers said. "He broke off his route well and made a good play for the ball. ... Cincinnati had a great call coming out in a stacked receiver set. It was one-on-one blitz coming. Chad won that matchup."
Palmer called it "a great play," but The Ocho didn't call it the biggest catch of his career.
"Just another catch," he said. "Did I do something spectacular or something? I don't think about it like that. Just throw the ball and let me catch it."
If he sounded somber, he was. He was clearly still thinking about the late Chris Henry.
"It's a really good feeling. I'm not jumping for joy or glee; just thinking about No. 15 once that clock hit zero," he said. "That was everybody's mindset — to go out there and win this one for him. That's about it. Again, it wasn't pretty at all. I'm not sure what the stats were. I know the first half wasn't good at all offensively on the run or the pass."
After describing how he celebrated by flashing his index finger on one hand and the five fingers on the other in honor of Henry's No. 15 and how he touched the heart of a Henry poster in the end zone, Ochocinco was asked if he was allowing himself to think about the division title.
"I just told you I was thinking about No. 15," said the Ocho, who usually answers everything and anything. "OK, that's it."
And he left with just four catches for 31 yards, still 48 yards shy of 10,000. But he also left with one of the biggest catches in Bengals history.
"He is a great receiver, if not the best in the NFL," Flowers said.
Two hours later Ochocinco was feeling a lot better. From a downtown restaurant, he tweeted, "My daughters riding the bull at Cadillac Ranch."
All was good. The Bengals were riding their dad into the playoffs.