Win or lose, Patriots fans looked at Ocho's typical one-catch line and asked the sensible question, "Will next week be the week?"
"Is he just being saved for the right moment?"
"When is the big breakout game? When does Chad finally arrive?"
All the way up until the Super Bowl, Patriots fans were confident. The next week would be the week. The next week would be the one when it all clicked. The Super Bowl came and went, the Patriots lost and Ocho caught one pass for 21 yards. It never clicked.
But that hasn't killed the optimism. The Ochocinco bandwagon is still up and running, and it's not just for fans. The Patriots may be getting themselves a few seats as well.
Consider the latest development out of Foxborough. The Patriots are trying to get Ochocinco to cut his salary down, which of course suggests that they have thoughts of keeping him on the roster for next year.
As ESPN's Skip Bayless suggested, the fact that the Patriots are communicating with Ochocinco and not making plans to cut bait indicates that, as far as Bill Belichick and Tom Brady are concerned, there's hope.
He's not alone. As was said on Yahoo! Sports' "Shutdown Corner" blog, "(The Patriots) must feel like there's some potential there for Ochocinco to contribute in 2012...The Patriots have never been shy about cutting loose dead weight. So they at least feel like (Ochocinco) is something more than that."
It's possible. It isn't likely. And it's absolutely not a theory the Patriots should rely on at all as they look to build their 2012 team.
As hard as it is to believe that Ochocinco could lose in one offseason everything that made him an elite receiver, it's just as hard to believe that he can get it back just as quickly. There were spurts of progress last year, the occasional ray of hope, but overall, Chad was either disappointingly inconsistent or consistently disappointing.
If the Patriots are feeling good about getting Chad on the same page as the rest of the offense, it's difficult, based on the sample we have, to share that optimism. Ochocinco didn't improve last year. In fact, he may have gotten worse.
He had five multi-catch games, and four of them came in the first five games. His peak probably came in back-to-back November games against the New York Giants and New York Jets, the first of which saw him targeted five times and the second of which saw him haul in a 53-yard grab. But then, aside from a wide-open touchdown catch against Denver, Ocho was essentially blanked for December and January.
That's why it's hard to buy the idea of a light bulb going off in the Brady-to-Ocho connection. Ochocinco didn't have the OTAs and other preseason get-togethers with Brady and the offense because of the lockout, true, but he also had almost six and a half months to get it straight.
He's not the first receiver ever asked to get an offense that quickly. And after a few months, the confused look after the incomplete out pattern didn't go away.
This isn't a plea to kick Ochocinco out. Far from it. All reports last year were that the team loved having him around, and to his credit, Ochocinco did pull a 180 and put his ego entirely behind the team concept. Everyone expecting a Terrell Owens meltdown was mistaken. Ochocinco said he was on board with the egophobic Patriots from the start, and he was true to his word.
And from a schematic standpoint, there are worse depth options than the six-time Pro Bowler. Ochocinco did show his old moves a few times to get open downfield. It's just that he would then stop on a go, go on a hitch or go in on an out.
If the Patriots can get him to hack down his contract, fine. It's hard to justify giving him the salary of a go-to option and the role that comes with it. Buying the idea of an Ochocinco return to form is a tough prospect. Hopefully, the Patriots are selling as well.