The Ravens may have had to cut ties this week with veteran receiver Derrick Mason and saw the likes of receiver Donte Stallworth take his services to the Washington Redskins, but there is one receiver who is leaving Baltimore behind who not a lot of people are talking about.
And that may be the strangest part of it all. It’s because this receiver in the past has been a guy to usually get the trash-talk started.
That of course is free agent wide receiver TJ Houshmandzadeh, who by the way of a coaching change in Seattle last summer, found his way to Baltimore and was projected to be the third leg of a superb receiving corps joining the likes of Anquan Boldin, Derrick Mason, Donte Stallworth and others.
Unfortunately, Houshmandzadeh-a catching machine for his first eight seasons in the league with Cincinnati-struggled to get himself in the mix in an offense that lacked identity at times last season, and it turned out there weren’t enough balls to go around for the many playmakers and egos in the Ravens passing game.
But Houshmandzadeh-despite his frustration at his role-was very mature about what happened and he voiced that same expression on “The Mobtown Sports Beat” with Thyrl Nelson Monday.
He was actually more displeased with the Ravens losing in the playoffs than his performance on the field.
“It wasn’t my use,” Houshmandzadeh told Nelson. “It was how the season went. My experience was great, except for not catching that last ball.”
Houshmandzadeh said he doesn’t blame the quarterback, Joe Flacco, coach John Harbaugh, OC Cam Cameron, or anyone else on the team. He admitted that wearing out his welcome in Seattle and coming into the mix in September was all on him.
“Getting here five days before the start of the season, I was behind everyone else,” Houshmandzadeh said. “We were getting ready to play the Jets, and I only had a few days to learn the plans, and for the coaches to put me in.”
Houshmandzadeh played in all 16 games last year, but as the third wide receiver behind Boldin and Mason-and being a similar receiver to those two, he didn’t get a lot of chances to make plays.
His 30 catches were the lowest total since his rookie year in 2002, and after 2004 with the Cincinnati Bengals, he saw no less than 73 balls come into his possession until suiting up in purple.
The highlight of his season came in Week 4 against the Steelers in Heinz Field, where he caught the game-winning touchdown from Flacco with just 32 seconds on the clock to put down Pittsburgh, 17-14.
It was that play in particular, and several others, that had Houshmandzadeh putting Flacco in the elite quarterbacks of the NFL, and he would know having caught passes from a Heisman Trophy winner and former top overall pick in Carson Palmer for years.
“The Ravens have the right guy in place,” Houshmandzadeh said. “It’s funny when people pick on him, because he’s cool. Joe was always the last guy to leave the facility. He puts the work in, and he’s only going to get better.”
Houshmandzadeh saw firsthand how much criticism the reserved Flacco took last season for the team’s struggles and for not being a vocal leader, and he said none of that was warranted to say the least.
“The criticism was unfair. Joe’s leadership was never in question,” the receiver said. “His style might be different, but the media didn’t understand.”
And further defending his quarterback-even if he is catching passes from another one this season-he says that the comparisons of Flacco to other elite quarterbacks in the NFL aren’t fair either because of the unique systems each signal-caller has at their disposal.
“Everybody’s offense is different,” T.J said. “Joe worked with what was given to him. It’s unfair to compare him to others’ offenses. We did a lot of different things here in Baltimore.”
And for Houshmandzadeh, it could all be different again for him in the next few weeks should a team other the Ravens give him a buzz. Given the Ravens full depth chart at receiver and Houshmandzadeh’s veteran asking price, he probably won’t be parking at 1 Winning Drive for this year’s training camp.
And he knows that.
“I would love to come back,” he said, “but they have a lot of guys there though.”
But, Houshmandzadeh has learned, especially after his time in Cincinnati and Seattle, to never burn your bridges because there’s always a chance to a return visit.
Maybe even one from Baltimore, per chance?
“I loved Baltimore. My time there was great…if the Ravens want me back, I would stay. All a team has to tell me is that they want to sign me.”
And whoever calls upon his services, he wants them to know that he’s all-in.
“Whenever the call is made, I’m ready to go,” Houshmandzadeh said. “My body feels great. I’m looking forward to what this year holds.”
WNST thanks T.J. Houshmandzadeh for joining @WNST and being a part of a great Ravens team in 2010! WNST-We Never Stop Talking Baltimore Sports!