Since joining the New England Patriots as a free agent this season, flamboyant wide receiver Chad Ochocinco is almost unrecognizable. Once known for his touchdown celebrations and brash comments with the Cincinnati Bengals, it's almost as though Ochocinco has joined the witness protection program.
Instead of his former "Hey, look at me" stand-up routines for the television cameras, I found him sitting facing into his locker almost as if he were hiding from the media earlier this week. When I approached to ask if he'd mind answering some questions, No. 85 politely declined, saying, "I don't do interviews. I haven't talked all year."
That explained why the New England media ignored him while rushing to group around any other nondescript players who might wander in to get something from their lockers. Under head coach Bill Belichick, the Patriots have rules about talking to the media, and the coach clearly warned them not to stir anything up before Sunday's match with the Jets, who eliminated them in the divisional playoffs last year at Gillette Stadium.
But turning Ochocinco into a clam is an example of how firm Belichick's control of his team really is. The receiver even stopped expressing himself on Twitter this week, telling one reporter that he had "lost a bet."
One local television reporter suggested Ochocinco's silence has more to do with a touchdown pass he dropped in the loss to Buffalo. The patriots eventually scored on the drive, but it took several minutes longer, and they ran out of time to come back in their only loss.
So far this season, Ochocinco hasn't caught more than two passes in a game, and his total of seven catches for 113 yards ranks fifth on the team behind Wes Welker, Rob Gronkowski, Deion Branch and Aaron Hernandez, who missed the past two games with an injury. The TV reporter said Ochocinco is having problems adjusting to the demands of the Patriots' complicated offense.
Jets cornerback Darrelle Revis always shut down Ochocinco whenever he faced him with Cincinnati, but he's been such a small factor in the Patriots' attack that it makes sense to have Revis cover Welker, who has caught a league-leading 40 passes for 616 yards and five touchdowns as a slot receiver. If that happens, it might actually give Ochocinco a chance to get open for quarterback Tom Brady, who tends to rely on players he trusts and hasn't yet developed an affinity for the strangely quiet newcomer.