On Tuesday, Patriots personnel chief Nick Caserio uttered one of the great lines of the season. Asked about Chad Ochocinco -- he of the 9 catches and 6 million in compensation -- Caserio said on a conference call, "We're happy with what Chad's done for us. He's probably one of our best practice players."Blink. Blink blink. It's one thing to want to deflect scrutiny and go to bat for a player that the coaching staff and front office is clearly fond of. But this bizarro world insistence that everything's clicking and this is what the Patriots expected a day after Ocho was held catchless and played a grand total of seven snaps is embarrassing. "One of our best practice players..." That's like lauding Jon Lester for shagging flies, praising Glen Davis for rebounding during shootaround. The guy wasn't hired to be a practice player. He was hired to do what Bill Belichick has so often stated is the wide receiver job description. "Get open. Catch the ball."If he was good at doing it, he'd be out there more than seven snaps and he'd have more than nine catches. Patriots' offensive coordinator Bill O'Brien, also on a conference call, said, "Ocho's progressing every week. He's done really well in practice and when he's been in games he's produced. Two minute drives at the end of the half. We're happy with where Ocho is."O'Brien and Caserio are sensible guys. They know how goofy it sounds to ask everyone to suspend reality and grade Ocho on some newly-invented curve that makes practice effort and likability prime considerations. O'Brien at least seemed to temper his praise when he said, "Again, guys, we got a lot of guys that contribute. This is a unique place. Some guys in certain games are contributing more than others and at some point in time we'll need everybody to contribute."It's the same "just wait" promise Ocho himself has been making since he got here.Or was making. Now his promises to be endlessly entertaining once he gets the offense downare laughable. He's in a position where he needs to make himself relevant orfind himself out of the league. The Patriots' "trophies for everyone" attitude with Ocho is so counter to what they've been about that -- even though he's about the 40th most important player on the team -- it's compelling to watch. "He goes out there and works hard, practices hard, he's out there on the field, he competes," insisted Caserio. "He's made plays when he's had an opportunity. We're six games in, it's a long season, we're happy that Chad's on the team."Whatever they say.
At every checkpoint along the way, this Deflategate farce continued precisely because the NFL has been seeking to diminish the Patriots and Tom Brady.