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Posted: 11 p.m.

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Houshmandzadeh

MIAMI - Everyone, it seemed, was pulling Sunday for Bengals wide receiver T.J. Houshmandzadeh to win the NFL receiving title. But he was six catches shy and time was almost gone.

Yet when quarterback Carson Palmer, with instructions he said came from the coaches, ducked into the huddle with 8:32 left in the season and told them "Let's do this," a surprised Houshmandzadeh asked, "Really?"

Then the guy with safecracker hands and the guts of a burglar came within a dropped swing pass from edging New England's Wes Welker by a catch on third down with 2:21 left.

"He gave me the opportunity. The way we were winning the game, we figured we would just run the ball down the stretch, but they decided to throw the ball and give me an opportunity," Houshmandzadeh said. "I've probably caught that last ball all year with one hand, but I dropped it today. It was cool though. I appreciate just giving me the chance."

No. 113 proved to be unlucky so instead Houshmandzadeh and Welker finished tied at the top with a Bengals-record 112 catches as Houshmandzadeh became the first Bengal to finish the season leading the NFL in receptions.

Houshmandzadeh admitted watching New England going 16-0 in Saturday night's win over the Giants helped by Welker's 11 catches got him pumped up to play the next day because of the electricity in Giants Stadium.

"After last night, I didn't really expect to come close to it with the way (Welker) played," he said. "It would have probably only been fitting for him to lead the league anyway the way they (Patriots) have won on offense."

On a second-and-three from the Miami 14, Palmer merely tried to play pitch and catch and flipped a two-yard screen pass across the line of scrimmage to pull Houshmandzadeh into a tie with Welker. On third-and-one, Palmer tried to freeze the linebackers with action to the right, but Houshmandzadeh couldn't pick off the flip back to the left as he motioned out of the backfield.

"I led T.J. a little too much. I was afraid it was going to be a lateral," Palmer said on a play that was ruled an incomplete pass. "I don't think T.J. really cares. T.J. was shocked (about trying to get him the record), but that's not why he plays this game. He's not worried about numbers and records. He just wants to win like a lot of guys on this team."

Houshmandzadeh ended the drive with five catches and nine for the game for 90 yards and they weren't all short stuff. Coming into the game tied for second in the NFL with third-down catches, Houshmandzadeh had three more Sunday, two on that last drive, but not enough to catch Baltimore's Derrick Mason.

One he broke for an eight-yard gain on third-and-three when he made a man miss at the stick, and then he grabbed a nine-yarder over the middle on third-and-nine that kept him alive and drew him within one of Welker.

"They started telling us on the sideline, 'He had four, two, one,' then they threw him a simple pass and he dropped it," said right tackle Willie Anderson. "He was laughing. He knew how much we all wanted him to get it and how hard the coaching staff tried to get it and players cheering him on."

Ironically, Houshmandzadeh did make another catch but it was on a hopping onside kick with 25 seconds left and head coach Marvin Lewis ordered a kneel down to end it.

TOP NFL RECEIVERS 2007

  • T.J. Houshmandzadeh, Bengals, 112 for 1,143 yards Wes Welker, Patriots, 112-1,175 Reggie Wayne, Colts, 104-1,510 Derrick Mason, Ravens, 103-1,087 Brandon Marshall, Broncos, 102-1,325 Larry Fitzgerald, Cardinals, 100-1,409

"We told him that last onside kick should count as a catch," Anderson said.

Mason caught six passes in the win over Pittsburgh to finish with 103. The Colts' Reggie Wayne moved ahead of him by one with 12 catches in less than a half of work for 104.

"If we'd lost and I didn't get it, I'd be mad," Houshmandzadeh said. "We could have tried to get half in the first half and the rest in the second half, but since we were winning, I didn't care."

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