CINCINNATI (AP) - With one big game, Terrell Owens made his point. He's nowhere near finished.
The 36-year-old receiver had trouble finding a team that would take him this offseason, something he took as a snub. The Cincinnati Bengals finally signed him, and he's their leading receiver after four games. One of the league's best, too.
Owens had 10 catches for 222 yards Sunday in a 23-20 loss at Cleveland. He moved into second place on the career list for yards receiving, trailing only former 49ers teammate Jerry Rice. He became the oldest receiver in NFL history to have a 200-yard game, and the only one this season.
"I think it was an eye-opener for a lot of people out there that have said a lot of negative things about me, as far as I've lost a step, I can't play," Owens said on Wednesday. Owens still chafes at the way teams ignored him after Buffalo let him go following his one season there. The Bengals gave him a tryout, then signed Antonio Bryant instead. Bryant's knee prevented him from being ready for training camp, so Cincinnati signed Owens to take his spot opposite Chad Ochocinco.
Owens wanted to prove something to the teams that passed on him. "They think I'm over the hill and I can't play and I've lost a step and things of that nature," he said. "It's disappointing to be in that situation. All along I've told you guys: I knew I could play this game. But if you listen to certain guys - GMs, scouts our what-have-you that assess film - and for whatever reason they say that I can't play, I think that's ignorance. "Who says just because you're in your 30s you can't play? Like, who dictates that? No man can dictate that. And I think I showed that in the game this past Sunday."
The Browns double-teamed Ochocinco, blitzed quarterback Carson Palmer and left Owens with single coverage much of the time. He tore it up. Owens caught passes on short and intermediate routes, and had a 78-yard touchdown on a sideline route, pulling away from a stumbling defender. He did it all.
"If you want to single-cover me, then fine," Owens said. "If you want to blitz, then do what you've got to do. But if you think that I can't play this game at a high level and put up the numbers that I did, you're in for a rude awakening."
None of it surprised Palmer, who lobbied the front office to sign Owens after they worked out together in California during the summer. Palmer is impressed with how hard Owens works during the week. "I think if there is one thing that has put him where he is in the history of the league, it's his work ethic," Palmer said. "He doesn't take a day off, doesn't take a practice off. There's a lot of guys once they get past 32, 33, they kind of slow themselves down and back off on Wednesdays and Thursdays. He wants to run as many routes as possible. He wants to run every one full speed."
Owens moved ahead of Isaac Bruce into second place on the career list with 15,325 yards. Rice had 22,895 yards in 20 seasons, playing until he was 42 years old. Rice also holds the career record for catches with 1,549. Owens is fifth at 1,030, trailing Rice, Marvin Harrison, Cris Carter and Tim Brown. The 49ers made him a third-round pick out of Tennessee-Chattanooga in 1996. He watched how Rice prepared for games and learned fast, moving into the starting lineup as a rookie.
"I kind of sat back and watched him from afar," Owens said. "Obviously he was an idol of mine. I was reserved back then, so I kind of watched him and watched how he ran routes, and as we watched film I kind of assessed what he saw with different coverages and things of that nature. "So a lot of things I've done over my career were definitely contributed to by the things that Jerry taught me, whether he knew it or not."
One big difference: Owens created more headlines. He played for the 49ers, the Eagles, the Cowboys, and the Bills, gaining a reputation for undercutting his quarterbacks while piling up impressive those statistics.
"Throughout my career, a lot of people have labeled me selfish in a number of ways," Owens said. "But despite that, I have been able to go out and do the things that I need to do on the football field."
One game showed he still can.