Bengals' Johnson catching TDs, taking names

OWINGS MILLS -- Inside the wooden locker of flamboyant Cincinnati Bengals wide receiver Chad Johnson, his revised checklist focused on Baltimore Ravens cornerbacks Chris McAlister and Samari Rolle was removed and replaced by one authored by coach Marvin Lewis.

As the first-place Bengals (6-2) prepare to play the Ravens (2-5) Sunday at M&T Bank Stadium, Johnson's original "Who will cover 85 in 2005?" sheet of cornerbacks' names was also taken down. Now in its place is Lewis' team-oriented, uncontroversial rendition of priorities for the All-Pro wideout.

Headlined "Did 85 do everything he could to lead his team to victory?" the list includes six checkpoints: "Did he study extra tape? Zero mental errors in practice? Make a teammate better? See all sights and hots? Did he run after the catch? Did he finish in blocking?"

There are ‘Yes' and ‘No' boxes next to each question, and Lewis will do the grades unlike the blanket, biased ‘No' that Johnson has assigned to each cornerback who lined up against him in the first half of the NFL season.

"I had revised the list and now they have spoiled my plan," Johnson lamented in a conference call Wednesday with Baltimore reporters. "It was going to be lovely. It would have been all over the news. The list was just Samari and Chris on there.

"They took it down for a reason, so I know they don't want it to get out. I am not going to go against the higher authority that took it out of there."

Lewis' explanation for the censorship: "If it's not there anymore, it's not a good list."

It's unlikely that the irrepressible Johnson will let Lewis' disciplinary action spoil his fun.

"This is the game that I've been waiting for," said Johnson, who caught 10 passes for 161 yards and two fourth-quarter touchdowns in a 27-26 comeback win in Baltimore last December. "You know how there is always one team you just love to play? Well, this is it.

"This is the game that I get up for. Is Ray Lewis playing? No? Oh, then I am really mad now!"

Johnson especially relishes trash talking with McAlister, a Pro Bowl selection whom he called one of the top two cornerbacks in the league.

"Chris says to me every year: ‘We're friends off the field, but between those lines we are enemies,'" Johnson said. "When he doesn't respond to me when I'm talking to him on the field and I'm saying something that might make him mad, then I really have to be on top of my ‘A' game."

In eight career games against Baltimore, Johnson has excelled at running his mouth and his legs. He has caught 39 passes for 621 yards and five touchdowns, averaging 15.9 yards per reception. Johnson had a combined 18 receptions for 260 yards last season against the Ravens.

"I've done fairly well, fairly well," Johnson said of his matchups with McAlister. "The thing about Chris is that he keeps me thinking and he makes everything difficult because he changes the way he plays every time."

Johnson has numerous connections with the Ravens' defense. He called Lewis and Deion Sanders his "spiritual fathers" and "football fathers" that he confides in off the field. He said he's idolized Rolle ever since both attended Miami Beach High School.

"You know how there is a person who you always look up to when you are young? Samari was that person," said Johnson, listed as Rolle's cousin in the Bengals' media guide. "Everything he did, I modeled myself after. I wore his number, tried to play quarterback like him, tried to walk like him. Samari is one of those big reasons why I am where I am today."

Johnson isn't shy about revealing his outspoken personality, rarely passing on opportunities to make himself the center of attention.

"It helps people to get to know who Chad really is," Johnson said. "Some people would only say Chad Johnson is a trash talker or cocky or arrogant. When you talk to him, you understand that he's smart, he understands the game, he works hard and he studies."

Rather than trumpet himself as the top receiver in the NFL, Johnson uncharacteristically said he ranks fourth or fifth behind Randy Moss, Terrell Owens and Marvin Harrison.

"In my eyes, I feel like I am the best, but I have not done the things that those guys have accomplished, which is getting their team to the postseason," said Johnson, whose Bengals are in a 15-year hiatus from the playoffs. "Once I do that, then I can say I solidified myself as one of the best in the NFL."

Johnson, who leads the AFC in receptions (48) and receiving yards (717), punctuates his touchdowns with elaborate celebrations. He unveiled his high-stepping "Riverdance" a la Michael Flatley in Chicago and performed CPR on a football in Jacksonville.

"Oh man, I've got a good one," Johnson said regarding his plans for Sunday. "I've got a really good one and you guys are going to love it."

NOTES: Linebacker Ray Lewis (thigh) has been ruled out for Sunday. Safety Ed Reed (ankle) is doubtful along with quarterback Kyle Boller (toe) and defensive end Tony Weaver (toe). Receiver Mark Clayton (ankle) and fullback Ovie Mughelli (ankle) are questionable. Nose guard Maake Kemoeatu (thigh) is probable. … Former Ravens offensive lineman Lester Brown, who was cut by the team this summer, died in a car accident Tuesday in California. He was 23.

In addition to being a long time contributor to RavensInsider, Aaron Wilson writes for the Carroll County Times in Westminster Maryland.

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