CINCINNATI — Chad Ochocinco is tired of being a sidekick.
When the Cincinnati Bengals signed receiver Terrell Owens at the start of training camp, Ochocinco was content playing “Robin” to T.O’s “Batman,” saying he was glad to stay in the background to help the team.
Not any longer.
Ochocinco went out of his way to call attention to himself during a 27-21 loss to Pittsburgh on Monday night, wearing bright gold cleats in a look-at-me gesture that caught everyone’s eye. He also vented his frustration as the game went along and he got shut down, exchanging words with quarterback Carson Palmer and coach Marvin Lewis.
Lewis yanked him from the game briefly to help him cool down. Ochocinco finished with only one catch, while Owens had 10 catches and two more touchdowns.
“Yeah, he was upset,” Lewis said. “But we’ve got to play football. If he’s not going to get it done right, he’s got to come take an opportunity to freshen up his mind and get right back in the game.”
Right now, Ochocinco’s mind seems to be about as out of sorts as his team’s season. The loss dropped the defending AFC North champions to 2-6, essentially scuttling their season at the midpoint. They’ve got two more months of playing it out, eight more chances for everyone to see how Ochocinco handles his season of being a nonfactor.
“It’s been like that all year,” Ochocinco said. “Teams are taking me away. It’s very frustrating. They’re not allowing me to be available to help this team out. I was emotional, but in no way did it affect what we were doing out there on the field.”
The Steelers (6-2) have a history of getting under Ochocinco’s skin. He’s played them 19 times, but has only three touchdown catches and a pair of 100-yard games. In 14 of the 19 games, Ochocinco has been limited to five or fewer catches.
They used similar tactics again on Monday night, giving Ochocinco double coverage while Owens — lined up next to slot receiver Jordan Shipley — got different treatment. Owens finished with 10 catches for 141 yards. Ochocinco had his only catch — for 15 yards — on the Bengals’ last drive.
“It felt like it’d be easier to get Ochocinco out of the game because he was the single-receiver side guy,” Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said Tuesday. “You had some route-combination issues when you’re talking about T.O. That’s probably been the case with most people who’ve played them.”
At age 36, Owens is having a career year. His 55 catches for 770 yards and seven touchdowns put him among the league’s elite and on pace to top his career highs for catches (100) and yards (1,451). He’s also on pace to break Ochocinco’s club record for yards receiving in a season.
Ochocinco has only 40 catches for 473 yards and two touchdowns, subpar numbers for the six-time Pro Bowl player. He hadn’t complained about his lack of catches — all the defensive attention helped Owens get open — until he became an afterthought in the national spotlight on Monday night.
He made his first catch late in the third quarter for an 8-yard gain, then slammed the ball to the ground in emphasis. The gesture was flagged for delay of game, and the reception was nullified by right tackle Andre Smith’s holding penalty earlier in the play.
Ochocinco’s increasing displays of frustration prompted Lewis to pull him from the game for a sideline chat.
“It was just him telling me to keep my head up, that’s all,” Ochocinco said.
Palmer threw to Ochocinco six times without success, trying to get him the ball on deep routes and short ones as well. The two of them also had words as the frustration mounted. In the locker room after the game, Palmer spent time talking to the receiver privately.
“It’s just a frustrating thing for him,” Palmer said. “He wants to catch the ball and he wants to make an impact in the game. Unfortunately, he was unable to do that. He’s an emotional player and I’m an emotional player. That’s part of what happens in this game. I love his competitiveness.”
After the game, Owens lobbied for the coaches to find a way to get his sidekick more involved.
“I think that’s up to the offensive coaching staff,” Owens said. “Chad is a great talent, and somehow we need to find a way to get him the ball early to mix it up and take advantage of his skills. I’m doing what I can to take the pressure off of him.”