CINCINNATI (AP) -Chad Ocho Cinco knows that when it's time to rank the Cincinnati Bengals' receivers this season, he's not at the top of the list.
And, it's not even close.
Even though the Bengals' offense is languishing at the bottom of the NFL in yards gained, T.J. Houshmandzadeh is at the top of the league in catches and third-down receptions. He's been virtually a one-man passing game at times - quite a feat, given what's going on around him.
``We've had one shining light in Housh,'' Ocho Cinco said. ``Housh has been able to produce week-in and week-out, regardless of who the quarterback is. All of us have to get onto the page where he is.''
For the second season in a row, Houshmandzadeh is an entire chapter ahead when it comes to making the clutch catch. He reached his first Pro Bowl last season, when he tied New England's Wes Welker for the league lead with 112 catches, a Bengals record.
atches - one more than Welker - and has four touchdowns in an offense that has found those hard to come by.
When the Bengals need a catch, he's the one they throw to most often. Houshmandzadeh leads the league with 24 catches on third down. He has nearly half of the Bengals' third-down conversions - Cincinnati ranks 28th out of the 32 teams with only 52 third-down conversions this season.
Whether the quarterback has been Carson Palmer or Ryan Fitzpatrick, opponents knew where the Bengals were throwing on third down, and it didn't matter. Houshmandzadeh had 12 catches Sunday in a 13-13 tie with the Eagles, who knew what to expect.
``I mean, he's a great player,'' said Fitzpatrick, who will start his sixth straight game in place of the injured Palmer. ``And I think the biggest thing with him is reliability, that whenever you go to him - whether there's two or three guys on him, whatever it takes - he's going to get open and catch the ball.
``It's nice being able to fall back and rely on him, especially when things aren't going right or we've got crucial third downs or even first and second down. He's a guy that it's no secret we like to go to. He's just a real special player in that way.''
nning precise routes all the time.
``I really haven't been a guy who catches a ball short and carries two, three people like T.J. does on my back,'' Ocho Cinco said. ``I can't play that way. If I did, I'd probably be in the hospital after the game.''
Opponents have been able to stop Ocho Cinco (41 catches, none for more than 22 yards) and Henry (eight catches, none longer than 18 yards). Houshmandzadeh keeps piling them up.
His dependability draws comparisons to Pittsburgh's Hines Ward, known as one of the toughest receivers in the league. Houshmandzadeh thinks that's a bit of a stretch.
``We're different. I'm faster and I'm better looking,'' Houshmandzadeh said, laughing. ``We both catch a lot of short passes. We both do the majority of the blocking for our respective teams in the run game. Hines has been in what, five Pro Bowls? Hopefully if I'm compared to him, I'm headed for four more.''
With the Bengals' season scuttled long ago, the better question is where Houshmandzadeh will be finishing his career. He's potentially a free agent after the season, although Cincinnati could use its franchise tag on him if they can't agree on a new contract.
The Bengals have managed only one winning record in Houshmandzadeh's eight seasons in Cincinnati, but he's not keen on leaving.
ere. I'm comfortable here. It's the only place I know. It's the only place I've ever been.''
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