EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

September 25, 2011

Last chance for Ochocinco

By Hector Longo

FOXBORO — It's come down to Matt Slater or Chad Ochocinco.

In what many feel is a Hall of Fame career, would you have ever believed that Ochocinco's stock would have fallen this far?

Remember, in Slater, Bill Belichick is showing trust in a special teams regular, who caught his first pro pass two weeks ago after three full seasons in the game.

Today, as the New England Patriots head into Ralph Wilson Stadium, Tom Brady needs Ochocinco for a lot more than the ex-Bengal legend has delivered so far.

Aaron Hernandez, according to reports, won't play today and maybe not for weeks with an MCL issue in his knee.

Last week in the Pats win over San Diego, it was Hernandez, not Ochocinco or even Tate, who logged the most snaps in the "X" or left lead wide receiver position when the Pats went with their basic three-receiver set.

So as the Bills, who've scored 79 points total in the first two games (six more than the Pats), ready to defend their home turf, Ochocinco stands in the spotlight, ready or not.

"We have a lot of different guys that play," stated Andover's Bill O'Brien, the Pats offensive coordinator when asked about the Hernandez injury. "I think that whole position is moving forward."

At one point last week against the Chargers, Tom Brady was forced to break his team's offensive rhythm and walk over to Ochocinco and tell him his job on the play. Brady and the Pats are predicating their offense on tempo and rhythm. He tossed a TD on the play to Rob Gronkowski, but clearly, Ochocinco's unwillingness to ascertain his duties has grown way too far.

"Each guy — Chad, Deion [Branch], Wes [Welker] — especially those three guys that have played the most for us, those guys really improved from the Miami game to the San Diego game," added O'Brien. "I think they are doing little things better. We're a game-plan offense, and depending on how teams are playing us, those are the personnel groups we go with and each and every week will be different. That's kind of what's always made us tick around here. As long as we can keep people off balance, that's part of what we try to do, use different personnel groups.

"Some game, one guy might play more than another guy. Those guys understand that. That's why they're here and they buy into that role. So I think all those guys are getting better."

Unfortunately for the Pats, O'Brien and Ochocinco, football is a business of tangibles.

Three harmless catches in two games simply can't be what the Pats are looking for, especially now with Hernandez on the sidelines.

The second-year hybrid receiver caught 14 balls for 165 yards and a pair of TDs while healthy.

Now, Ochocinco becomes a pivotal part of all those three-receiver packages O'Brien spoke of.

"I think offensive football is about everybody being on the same page. Look, the quarterback never can be successful without the help of every single guy out there. I've had guys making plays in both games, making some tough catches," said Tom Brady. "I think we've been efficient. At the same time, I think there are a lot of areas that we need to improve on."

Brady might as well have called out Ochocinco by name when talking about improvement.

Since arriving here, Ochocinco has been roasted for too many drops in camp and too little ability to grasp the playbook.

All that is left is to question what Ochocinco has left in those 33-year-old legs. And that question has to be answered today.

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