CINCINNATI (AP) – One catch for 11 yards. Chad Johnson’s numbers in the Cincinnati Bengals’ big game were nothing to brag about.

Not that it will stop him, of course.

Undaunted and unbowed, Johnson has kept up his humorous insults and baiting banter heading into a game against New England. By his standards, the playfulness is a mark of maturity.

The Pro Bowl receiver has been trying to keep things in perspective when his catches don’t add up. He vented his frustrations at halftime of a 31-17 playoff loss to Pittsburgh last January, prompting the coaches to have a little offseason chat about the importance of taking things in stride.

So far, he has.

The Steelers tilted their coverage his way last Sunday, holding him to that one catch. T.J. Houshmandzadeh and Chris Henry each had two touchdowns during Cincinnati’s 28-20 win, taking advantage of the opening created by the attention on Johnson.

“He was saying after the game about how he’s getting frustrated because of how good he is,” quarterback Carson Palmer said. “That’s not his role on the team at all, to be a decoy. He’s a guy we’re always trying to get the ball to, even when he’s double- or triple-covered.

“But like I said after the game, he has done a good job of controlling his emotions.”

In the past, Johnson would have sulked and let everyone know about his frustration, pleading for more passes his way. So far, he’s keeping his feelings in check.

“It took everything I have in my body. Everything,” Johnson said. “What kept me calm was Carson continuously saying, ‘It is a sign of respect. Don’t get flustered because when your number is called, I’m going to need you to make a play for me.”‘

He never got the chance.

“All I needed was some popcorn and watch No. 84 (Houshmandzadeh) and No. 15 (Henry) just go to work while I was on the side,” Johnson said. “It was nice. It was a beautiful game, and I really enjoyed myself.”

The outcome, perhaps, but not the role. Johnson craves being in the middle of one of the NFL’s top offenses – he has led AFC receivers in yards for the last three seasons. After three games, he’s only 20th in the conference with 12 catches for 137 yards.

There’s plenty of time left to catch up.

“Some games he’s going to catch a bunch of balls, some days he’s not going to catch a bunch of balls,” Palmer said. “I think he’s matured a lot and will continue to do so.

“He’s an emotional guy. He needs confidence from other guys around him. He needs a high-five or a pat on the back for ‘good blocking today, but next week will be different. Next week we’re going to get you the ball.”‘

He should get some chances against a banged-up New England secondary on Sunday. Free safety Eugene Wilson was listed as questionable with a hamstring injury, and cornerback Ellis Hobbs was questionable with an injured wrist. Cornerback Asante Samuel is likely to get the responsibility of covering Johnson – with help, of course.

During a conference call with writers who cover the Patriots this week, Johnson tried to send a message.

“You tell Asante to make sure that he continues to have help all four quarters, or his No. 22 is going to be 55 – is that what it looks like upside down?” Johnson said, playfully. “Wait a minute, I’m not finished. You tell Junior (Seau) when I’m done with him …”

There was a pause.

What exactly was one of the league’s trashiest talkers going to do to one of its hardest hitters?

“Never mind,” he said. “I’m not going to pick on Junior. That is not a good one. I could get hurt there.”


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