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Ochocinco finds himself in odd place as Patriots strive for Super Bowl win

Jason Cole
Yahoo Sports

INDIANAPOLIS – Ten days ago, New England Patriots wide receiver Chad Ochocinco dealt with emotions he had never experienced. For a moment, he was unsure how he was supposed to react.

For the first time in his life, he had a connection to his father that went beyond an obligatory phone call. Sadly, it took the death of his father, Sam Brown, to get that out of him.

"It just hit me when I walked in the church and everybody was crying," Ochocinco said, recalling the moment he entered the Jordan Grove Baptist Church in the Liberty City section of Miami. "I didn't expect to feel that way at all. We were OK, but not like close … just sitting there, I kind of felt different about him, like I appreciated him a little more."

This was the Saturday before the AFC championship game, the biggest game of Ochocinco's countervailing career. In a cruel bit of symbolism, he didn't even play because he was unable to make it back from Miami on time.

For all the attention Ochocinco received during his time in Cincinnati, there was never any success from a team standpoint. In a decade played in the Queen City, the Bengals not only failed to win a championship, they never won a playoff game.

Now, Ochocinco is at the place he has always wanted to be, but he is little more than a side note. He's a backup receiver who has been disappointing while the Patriots have been a raging success, making their fifth Super Bowl in 11 seasons.

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Just like that day in the church, Ochocinco is getting ready to walk into a situation not knowing exactly how to feel.

"[Terrell Owens] told me I need to treat it like it's just another game," Ochocinco said, referring to his 2010 teammate with the Bengals. Aside from Owens, he has been leaning on longtime friend Randy Moss for advice in dealing with the ups and downs of not playing a significant role.

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But only a few minutes after talking about taking an even-keeled approach, Ochocinco said, "Man, it's going to be big on Sunday."

It makes sense that Ochocinco doesn't quite know how to feel. His performance this season has been pretty much inconsequential. He was limited to only 15 catches for 276 yards and one touchdown. The fact that he didn't play in the AFC championship game was not a controversy in any way.

That's right, the NFL's former King of Controversy is barely worth getting worked up over these days. That's also why at one point Tuesday night, as he sat among three buddies who made the two-hour drive from Cincinnati to have dinner at the Hard Rock Cafe and then take-in some late-night entertainment, they ruminated about celebrations past and joked about ideas present.

Then, a few minutes later, those same buddies asked why their friend hasn't been playing much.

The answer is fairly simple. By Ochocinco's own admission, he doesn't know the offense well enough to play without thinking, particularly when New England goes to its hurry-up attack. Instead of simply reacting to situations, he's going through the steps in his head and that makes him a step too slow.

Add in the fact that wide receiver Deion Branch (the only one of the four regular receivers who Ochocinco had a chance to beat out) is quarterback Tom Brady's most trusted target – yes, even more than wideout Wes Welker or tight ends Rob Gronkowski or Aaron Hernandez – and you realize there's simply no place for Ochocinco right now.

However, people who are predicting the end of Ochocinco's career might be a bit premature. Give him a full offseason and he might figure it out. It's also unfair to say that Ochocinco hasn't accomplished anything this year.

"The old me would have probably blown up in Week 4," said Ochocinco, who had rubbed coaches and teammates the wrong way with his antics in Cincinnati. "I didn't because that's what everybody expected of me. I knew that people didn't think I was going to last. I did it because I want to be part of this. I wasn't going to spoil that."

Yes, Ochocinco has been a responsible teammate. The moody behavior in meetings, the look-at-me stunts and general histrionics are gone. Can it really be that Ochocinco is a mature human being?

Well, sort of. He did, after all, make the decision to attend his dad's funeral. His dad, who died suddenly after being diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, did more time than make time for his son.

"We were OK. We talked once every week or two weeks," Ochocinco said. "It was about football or just what was happening, but nothing deep. We were cool."

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This is the same guy who three years ago said that he didn't care at all about his lack of a relationship with his father.

Still, there's a goofy side to Ochocinco, who at one point during dinner with his friends broke out in a painful version of Hoobastank's "The Reason" as the video played over the restaurant TVs. And there are still plenty of moments when he thinks about what he might do if he can manage to make a play in the Super Bowl. Fact is, with Gronkowski injured and the Patriots struggling to get long pass plays, there may be a place for him in the game plan, even if that sounds like a huge stretch after this season.

"Just wait, it's going to be a big surprise for everyone," Ochocinco said, referring to a possible touchdown celebration. He grinned lightly as he said it because, in reality, Ochocino is among the "everyone." This season has been living proof of the care with which a person should wish for something.

Ochocinco wanted nothing more than to be free of the Bengals and to play for New England and coach Bill Belichick. Sadly, it hasn't worked out the way he dreamed.

But just like going through his father's death, maybe it has made him a more mature person.

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