WR Keyshawn Johnson's torrid first half has him on pace to break Buc records for receptions and receiving yards
Since Keyshawn Johnson has made at least one reception in every NFL game he has ever played, it's a safe bet that he will record his 60th catch of the season on Sunday against the Chicago Bears.
Johnson is fast on his way to the most prolific receiving season in Tampa Bay Buccaneers history, and that 60th catch in the ninth game of the year is a good indication of just how rapidly he is assaulting the team's record book. That grab will tie him for the 10th-best reception total in team history.
Of course, Johnson is not likely to stop at the ten spot. His per-game average this season is a little over seven catches; should he get that again versus the Bears, he would already have the sixth best single-season mark in club annals. Thirteen receptions from now, he'll have the fourth-best season. You get the picture.
Johnson, who was acquired from the New York Jets at the price of two first-round draft picks in the spring of 2000, is leading an assault on the Bucs' record pages that is worth examining at the halfway point of the season. As each week passes, the 'on pace' notes take on a little more validity, as players like Johnson, quarterback Brad Johnson, kicker Martin Gramatica and cornerback Ronde Barber prove that early season performances were no fluke.
Keyshawn Johnson's 59 receptions for 745 yards (first and third in the NFC, respectively) at the turn have him pace for 118 catches and 1,490 yards. The Buccaneers' records in those two categories are 86 and 1,422, both set in 1989 by Mark Carrier.
Other hallowed Buc records are in danger of falling (see below), but Johnson seems most likely to hit his marks. Tampa Bay seemed to struggle a bit to incorporate their new weapon into the offense last year, though he did finish near his career averages with 71 receptions for 874 yards. This season, Brad Johnson has made the big USC product his go-to guy, and the Bucs have moved him all over the field to maximize his talents.
We're a little bit more familiar with him and what's good for him," said Head Coach Tony Dungy of Keyshawn Johnson's role in the offense. "I think he knows our offense better the second time through. We've made a conscious effort to give him the ball and he's produced and made some big plays. I think that's something that will continue. He's had a very good year."
There is, of course, no guarantee that Johnson's second-half production will stay at the same pace, but it won't be for a lack of trying on the Bucs' part.
"I think you need everyone, but we're certainly going to try to get the ball to Keyshawn, Mike (Alstott) and Warrick (Dunn)," said Dungy. "That's a big part of what we do. We have things in for the other guys, and you never know how a team is going to play you. (In Detroit), Dave Moore made a couple of third-down catches, Reidel (Anthony) made a third-down catch for us. We went to Warrick a couple of times on third down in key situations. It just depends on how they play you, but those three guys will continue to be a big part of what we try to do."
Johnson hauled in seven passes for 72 yards in Detroit, pretty much right on his season averages. The first ball thrown his way, a receiver screen that the Bucs have used to good effect in previous weeks, got to him just before the defender did, as Johnson took a wicked hit from cornerback Todd Lyght for a loss of two yards. Johnson also absorbed a kill shot from safety Ron Rice on a quick slant in the second half, but neither blow kept him out of the action or prevented him from making the game's most crucial reception. On the Bucs' game-winning drive, Johnson athletically dragged the toes of his left foot just in bounds to record an 18-yard catch on third-and-three from the Bucs' own 27.
The fact that the 6-4, 212-pound Johnson is unafraid to go over the middle and unwilling to let minor injuries slow him down has aided greatly in his chase of the Bucs' receiving records.
"One thing that you kind of forget when you haven't been around guys that have caught that many balls is how tough you have to be," said Dungy. "When I was with Cris Carter in Minnesota, and he used to catch 100 catches a year, especially catching them inside where those guys catch them. You get hit a lot, and it takes a lot to come back out to practice. That's one of the things you can underestimate is his toughness and the ability week-in and week-out.
"They're not hits I would want to take. That's his game, and that's a big part of that. He doesn't have a fear of that and he wants the ball and he catches it inside. So we have to maximize that."
Keyshawn Johnson's pass-catching has also helped Brad Johnson take a crack at the Bucs' record book (and the other way around, of course). Signed as an unrestricted free agent during the offseason, the former Viking and Redskin is on pace to break or challenge Tampa Bay passing records in almost every category, as seen in the chart below.
|Category||1st Half||Projection||Existing Record|
|Passing Yards||1,752||3,502||Doug Williams – 3,563 in 1981|
|Pass Attempts||278||556||Doug Williams – 521 in 1980|
|Pass Completions||172||344||Steve DeBerg – 308 in 1984|
|Completion Pct.||61.9%||61.9%||Steve DeBerg – 60.5% in 1984|
|Lowest INT Pct.||1.4%||1.44%||Craig Erickson – 2.51% in 1994|
Of course, performing so well in all of those categories also has put Johnson in position to challenge the team's passer rating standard, set at 85.3 by DeBerg in 1987. Johnson's current mark of 84.7 is no mirage – that exactly equals his career mark coming into 2001.
Gramatica has already set one record, blowing past Michael Husted's former mark of 78 consecutive extra points made. The Bucs' third-year kicker, who has not missed a PAT as a pro, is sitting on 85 straight going into the second half.
Gramatica also has a field goal percentage of 84.6%, making 11 of 13 so far and missing only from 52 and 54 yards. Steve Christie set the team record at 85.2% in 1990 when he connected on 23 of 27 attempts. In terms of points scored, Gramatica is chasing his own marks, having scored a team-record 106 points as a rookie then topping it in his sophomore campaign with 126. At the moment, he is on pace for 102 points, which would give him the only three triple-digit scoring seasons in team history.
Barber has five interceptions through eight games, a pace that would lead to 10 by season's end and would break the team record by one. Cedric Brown set the mark at nine way back in 1981 and nobody has had better than seven since. Projecting interceptions is a bit shakier than, say, passing yards, but Barber has shown an ability to get them in bunches.
Barber's season will go down as one of the better ones by a cornerback in team history whether he catches Brown or not, and the same can be said of the other players examined above. Still, it is exciting to see current Buccaneers chase records that have stood in some cases for dozens of years. With strong first-half performances, Barber, Gramatica, Brad Johnson and Keyshawn Johnson have provided hope that they'll catch those marks.