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Teammates salute Ocho

Chad Ochocinco

"Good night and may God bless you all."

That was Chad Ochocinco's Twitter signoff on the day the most prolific receiving career in Bengals history ended with his trade to the Patriots after he renegotiated a three-year deal and set the league to wondering if The Ocho could get along with Numero Uno in New England head coach Bill Belichick.

Because he certainly didn't get along with Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis at the end.

And Bengals president Mike Brown, who signed Ochocinco to two unprecedented mega contracts within three years and was rewarded with a Pro Bowl pout when he didn't get another one in 2008, grew so tired of him at the end that he virtually gave him away for what has been reported by ESPN as a fifth-rounder in 2012 and a sixth-rounder in 2013.

Despite some smoke and mirrors, there was no way The Ocho was coming back after last year. At least one player who met with Brown before and after the lockout said Thursday that Brown had no plans to bring him back.

Yet Lewis sent out a classy text to NFL Network, thanking The Ocho "for all he's done for me."

Still, Ochocinco's former teammates wished him well via Twitter with Tank Johnson going as far to praise him for putting Cincinnati on the map. Safety Chris Crocker, a victim of a Chad Johnson stunt in 2004 when he sent bottles of Pepto Bismol to the Cleveland secondary, was happy he was going to New England.

"He probably went to the best place he can go for a wide receiver," Crocker said. "You've got Tom (Brady) and those tight ends. He's not going to have to be the main guy. Tom Brady spreads the wealth. Chad has been known to do his antics, but inside those four walls he was just one of the guys, a laid-back guy that lined up every day. Those types of things didn't bother us. It wasn't a distraction. I don't know if it bothered the guys upstairs."

Oh yeah, it did.

Lewis visibly so and Brown quietly so, letting his frustration seep out after The Ocho rode a bull back in May.

"Next maybe he'll be a snake wrangler and we can all watch to see if he gets bit or something," Brown said. "I don't know. He's always up to some stunt. They amuse me in a way and yet they concern me because, let's face it, as we look at it we want a football player. We aren't looking for a bull rider or a dancer, or a soccer player. We want a football player. It's simple. That's where we want the focus. Not on other things."

Asked if Ochocinco could still be a football player for him, Brown said, "If he chose to be, there's no question. The issue is does he at this stage of his life have that focus. ... He has a genius for bringing notice to himself and I don't say that in a disparaging way. It's unique. I've never known any football player that can bring the spotlight on to himself seemingly all year round. Now is that a good thing or a bad thing? And that gets to be a debate."

It has been a long debate, often played out in public. Lewis fumed openly about Ochocinco's lack of blocking. There are those that believe Ochocinco hasn't been the same since Browns safety Brian Russell knocked him out late in a 2006 game and that for the past several years has shied away from wading into the middle. And there is the inconsistent route-running and his inability to play multiple spots, which Bengals radio analyst Dave Lapham touched on in an NFL Network interview. Lapham also said he's lost a step.

The inconsistent routes clearly drove quarterback Carson Palmer bonkers and, ironically, was amplified in a Monday night game against the Pats at Paul Brown Stadium on Oct. 1, 2007. The 1-2 Bengals desperately needed a win and in their chance to cut the lead to 17-14 going into halftime, Palmer and The Ocho had a nationally-televised spectacle about a mistimed route that got picked off. The Pats rolled, 34-13, and Lewis ripped his club for lack of professionalism against New England's professional killers.

Since Brady lives on precision, that's a question, too.

Yet Ochocinco's teammates have always had his back and they did Thursday, believing he'll be a perfect Patriot.

"I'm happy for him. All he's ever wanted to do is win and now he's going to the most established team in the league," said quarterback Jordan Palmer. "I think Chad has a lot of football left athletically."

The man who is going to replace Ochocinco at the X, Jerome Simpson, considers him a mentor.

"He taught me how to go out there on the field and go after it," Simpson said. "He helped me with everything. Routes. Releases. And I'll tell you a guy he's going to help there is Brandon Tate. He'll make him better. I'll miss him."

And it's not like Brown doesn't think Ochocinco can still play. For the second time in seven years he traded one of his problem children to Belichick and running back Corey Dillon had a career year and led the Pats to a Super Bowl title. Brown thinks The Ocho has similar juice left.

At 33 and three straight declining seasons, there are those in and out of the building that think The Ocho can still play and jolt a team with some of the playmaking skills title that brought him an unprecedented four straight conference receiving yards titles from 2003-2006 and one NFL crown.

The Ocho-Belichick saga reached full flower in the week before last year's opener, when the Pats drilled the Bengals. They are truly an Odd Couple, the no-nonsense Hall of Fame coach and a 21st century reality star.

"I like Chad. I like him as a player. I like him as a person. I like his enthusiasm and the fun he has with football," Belichick said in his Foxboro news conference. that week. "And I like how he competes on the football field. I have a lot of respect for that. [We're] an odd couple, but in the end I think we have a lot of things in common.

"The first time I met Chad was at USC when I worked him out there on the USC campus. [We] kind of ran him into the ground. It was a good workout. It was very impressive. He was, I'd say, a little raw coming out of college but very talented and clearly he made the transition very quickly to picking up the skills and techniques and so forth that maybe he didn't get a chance to do in college. He picked those up in a hurry. [He's] related to Keyshawn [Johnson], so we kind of stayed in touch with him through the years there and then got to spend some time with him a couple years ago out there at the Pro Bowl."

Belichick even admitted that The Ocho has even got Bill Belichick to talk trash.

"Chad and I have gotten into it before," he said, "But in the end it all comes down to what happens on Sunday out on the field. We'll do our best; I'm sure he'll do his best and we'll see what happens."

Ochocinco never did much against Belichick until last year's opener when he racked up 12 catches for 159 yards and a touchdown.

"Bill and I got very well acquainted once we got to the Pro Bowl and got to know each other," Ochocinco said before that game. "It became a relationship beyond just a football player and a coach. He became a friend of mine. He has a lot of respect for me in my game and I have a lot of respect for him in everything he's done as a coach. We just became really close and fond of each other's work. He's one that I look up to tremendously, one that I've never played for, but I show the same respect as if he was my own head coach."

Now, of course, he is.

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