Chad Johnson bristles at selfish label, says he won’t change

Associated Press

CINCINNATI (AP) _ Chad Johnson didn’t stop to talk in the locker room after team meetings on Monday, slipping out a side door. He didn’t pause while walking through a cold rain in the Paul Brown Stadium parking lot, reporters matching his stride.

When he reached his car, he stopped to clear his mind before hitting the road.

He’s not happy about being labeled a selfish player. He’s stunned at how his image has changed from fun-loving to self-promoting. He wouldn’t be surprised if the Cincinnati Bengals eventually consider trading him because of his antics.

All that aside, he’s not going to change.

“I am completely out of the norm,” Johnson said, standing beneath an overhang in the rain-slicked parking lot. “I’m the only person that plays and talks and does the things he does, but at the same time, I’m very, very productive at what I do. Because I’m out of the norm, I guess I’m an easy target for it.

“I cannot perform at a high level and not be Chad. It’s impossible. I cannot and will not change.”

Johnson had his relatively quiet game Sunday, catching three passes for 102 yards during a 38-31 victory over the New York Jets. He had one catch for 56 yards on the Bengals’ second series, then was blanketed by at least two defensive backs on every play for the rest of the game.

Johnson and receiver T.J. Houshmandzadeh spent much of the game acting as decoys in the Jets’ close coverage. The Bengals (2-4) took advantage by running the ball 41 times for 177 yards and throwing it only 21 times.

“Yesterday was just a day of patience for both T.J. and I,” Johnson said. “It was a great test of our patience, and it shows our unselfishness.”

He pronounced that last word slowly for emphasis.

Since Johnson sniped at quarterback Carson Palmer over an interception during a 34-13 loss to New England – and coach Marvin Lewis ripped his players afterward for being selfish – the Pro Bowl receiver has become the focal point for the Bengals’ poor start.

National commentators are suggesting the Bengals could trade him – an unlikely prospect, given his age and contract. Cousin Keyshawn Johnson, a former NFL receiver, criticized him on a pregame show Sunday, saying his antics are a disruption.

The receiver was really stung when a Cincinnati Enquirer columnist who wrote Johnson’s biography suggested that the Bengals might be better off without him.

“You’ve got to be kidding me,” Johnson said.

The 29-year-old receiver has pushed the envelope on touchdown celebrations while leading AFC receivers in yards for each of the past four seasons, the first time anyone has done that. His childlike joy won over the fans; his childish reaction during the New England game has made him a target.

He thinks a lot of it has to do with the losing.

“I’ve been playing it the same way the past four years,” Johnson said. “I celebrate. I have fun with it. It is a dirty business. And to get the business side of it off my mind, I go out and have fun with it like I’m a little kid. That’s all it is. It’s the NFL, but I’m playing like it’s the backyard. And I’m wrong because I’m not the norm.”

Lewis has been sharply critical of the receiver over the years, referring to him as “Ocho Psycho” at the end of last season. Asked on Monday whether Johnson has been a team player or a selfish player, Lewis responded: “He’s been a team player.”

Johnson thinks his head coach likes him, despite some of the things he’s said about him.

“But you know, they have to do what they have to do,” Johnson said. “Chad has to do what Chad has to do.”

Last year, the Bengals reworked Johnson’s contract to give him more money and add another year, extending it through 2010 with a club option for 2011. The salary cap makes it difficult to trade players with big, multiyear contracts, but Johnson wouldn’t be shocked if the Bengals thought about it down the road.

“That’s the business part of it,” Johnson said. “That wouldn’t surprise me.”