Throwing down the verbal gauntlet heading into Sunday’s critical AFC North clash at M&T Bank Stadium, Johnson playfully warned Ravens seven-time All-Pro middle linebacker Ray Lewis that he might want to be sure he’s wearing a mouthpiece.
“The agenda? Hit him in the mouth,” said Johnson, the self-proclaimed ‘Ocho Cinco’ who hasn’t lost his edge despite shedding his blonde Mohawk. “Chris and Samari have made the list before and haven’t been able to do the job. So, I’m going to go ahead and move up in the ranks.”
Hours after Johnson’s bombastic conference call Wednesday with Baltimore reporters, Lewis burst into laughter when his friend’s comments were relayed to him.
With Johnson, whose antics are intended to entertain and create distractions for opponents, his remarks don’t seem to anger anyone involved.
“For me to take that personal, that’s like one of my kids saying, ‘Daddy, I can beat you fighting,’” said Lewis, adding that he talks to Johnson three or four times a week on the phone. “When you’re that confident and if you feel like saying something, say it, but be careful. I love that kid. If you don’t have fun with this game, who will?
“He’s a heck of a talent, but one thing about it, the ball will be snapped. If he’s lucky enough to come across the middle, we might meet.”
Johnson didn’t confine his shots to Lewis, alluding to linebacker Bart Scott’s tackle of New Orleans Saints rookie running back Reggie Bush that resulted in Bush leaving the game with an injured ankle.
“He’s out there hurting people intentionally, so I think I need to stay away from Bart,” Johnson quipped.
“He talks it and he walks it,” Scott said. “It’s fun. It raises your level, keeps you on your toes and fires you up. Chad’s a funny guy.”
Although Johnson’s numbers are down this season with 36 receptions and two touchdowns, he has quite a history against the Ravens. Only a week ago, Johnson said playing the Ravens reminds him of Christmas.
In his past six games against Baltimore, Johnson has caught 35 passes for 584 yards and four touchdowns for an average of 97.3 yards and 5.8 receptions per game.
Cincinatti (4-3) has won three consecutive games against Baltimore (5-2_, including a sweep last season as Johnson piled up a total of 10 catches for 179 yards and a touchdown against Rolle and McAlister.
Plus, Johnson has designs on getting under safety Ed Reed’s skin.
“I've got to get Ed mad," Johnson said. "If I get Ed mad, he will get real [ticked] off and he will start talking trash."
Reed's response echoed a sentiment expressed throughout the locker room. He declined to respond in kind to Johnson’s shenanigans.
"I don't pay that no mind when I'm out there on the field," Reed said. "It's all about football."
Johnson has successfully baited McAlister in the past with more than his patented double-move, getting the former Pro Bowl cornerback frustrated with his antics.
“He can talk until he’s blue in the face,” McAlister harrumphed. “I’m going to play football. I’m not paying attention to it.”
Johnson has admittedly been quieter this season at coach Marvin Lewis’ direction, but that silence appears to be permanently broken.
“If they are going to double and triple-team me anyway, I might as well keep talking and having fun with it,” Johnson said. “I’m going to keep talking and just be me.”
Following Johnson’s 54-yard touchdown catch during last season’s 42-29 rout over Baltimore in Cincinnati, the All-Pro wideout dislodged an end-zone pylon and pretended to sink a golf putt a la Tiger Woods.
For Rolle, who grew up with Johnson in Miami Beach, Fla., these comedic routines strike a familiar chord.
“He was the same as he is now,” Rolle said. “When you see the antics, it’s not like he’s changed because he’s been like that since elementary school.
“I’m proud of him. He always said he would make it and he’s done a good job. He brings a lot of entertainment to the game unless you’re playing him.”
For an outspoken athlete who has celebrated touchdowns with a mock proposal to a Bengals cheerleader, done the infamous “Riverdance” and a “Pepto-Bismol” dance after giving defensive backs indigestion, what’s he plotting for Sunday?
“It’s going to be hard to top, but I’m going to try,” he said. “Trust me, you’ll love it. I have some special, special stuff for the city of Baltimore. You know 85 is coming to town.”
Aaron Wilson covers the Baltimore Ravens for the Carroll County Times in Westminster, Maryland.