Rookie left tackle Kenyatta Walker believes the Bucs will regroup quickly after a 10-sack game against Pittsburgh
Brad Johnson is walking around the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' locker room comfortably, without any apparent physical damage from the team-record-tying 10 sacks he took last Sunday.
That doesn't mean the Bucs weren't wounded by the whole sordid affair.
Taking 10 sacks in one game is rare – Tampa Bay hadn't allowed as many as nine in a game since 1978 – and it's upsetting to a rebuilt offensive line that had designs on a big season in 2001.
"Who wouldn't be upset?" said rookie Kenyatta Walker, who has been thrown right into the fire at left tackle. "I think the whole offense is upset over what happened. Nobody likes to see Brad get hit as much as he did. I know I don't. It can't happen again. We've just got to go out there and regroup."
It is Walker's pride, and not Johnson's 6-5 frame, that took the biggest beating on Sunday.
"There's a lot of pride involved," he said. "Nobody wants to let them get to their quarterback that many times, especially me."
Johnson said on Wednesday that he felt perfectly healthy and, indeed, most of the sacks he took were more of the drag-down variety than the dreaded blind-side kill shot. He also spread the blame around, not putting the entire onus on his blockers.
"When you're getting sacks, sometimes there are a lot of factors involved," said Johnson. "Sometimes, yes, it is a guy getting beat or missing an assignment, sometimes you get a cover sack, sometimes it's the quarterback holding onto the ball too long. When you have to throw the ball as much as we have the last two games, especially in the fourth quarter when teams are teeing off on you, those kinds of things are going to occur."
Still, that's not necessarily the way Walker is going to look at it. Even early in his rookie season, he has emerged as a stand-up player in the locker room, one who believes in accountability and facing the media after wins and losses.
"I can only talk for myself," said Walker. "I put a lot of it on me. We've just got to get better. It's a long season. Somebody told me after the game, 'You've got 11 more.' We've got to get it done."
It has been an up-and-down season for the Bucs' offense in terms of protection, perhaps a pattern that could have been expected with two offensive linemen, Walker and second-year guard Cosey Coleman, starting for the first time. Tampa Bay has allowed 19 sacks so far, 15 of them in the two games against Green Bay and Pittsburgh. Walker and company handled Tennessee all-world rushers Jevon Kearse and Kevin Carter very well (one sack) and also had success in protection against the upcoming opponent, Minnesota (one sack).
The more persistent offensive problem, in Walker's observance, is difficulty in the red zone.
"When we're inside the 20, we need to score," he said. "We need to put the ball in the end zone and stop kicking field goals."
Tampa Bay has scored touchdowns on six of its 12 forays into the red zone this season, a 50% success rate that ranks ninth in the NFC. Minnesota is holding opponents to a 45.0% touchdown rate in the red zone.
"It seems like you're able to move the ball against them, but they do a great job in the red zone as far as not giving up points," said Johnson. "I think you can complete some balls against them, but once you get down to the red zone area, they're able to stop you. That's probably the strength of their team, not giving up touchdowns."
The first Minnesota game, in the Metrodome on September 28, was probably the Bucs' worst red-zone game of the year, as the offense put just one of four possessions into the end zone, kicking two field goals and losing the possible game-winning drive at the end on an interception. The Bucs also failed to get a touchdown on their first red zone trip against Pittsburgh on Sunday, despite getting a first-and-goal at the eight.
The first and second-down plays upon reaching the eight on that drive were runs by FB Mike Alstott, which picked up a total of three yards. Walker said on Wednesday that he felt the Bucs' were a little predictable on offense against Pittsburgh, but that execution was a bigger problem. Indeed, Alstott picked up 12 yards on a similar run on the previous play.
"The Pittsburgh game was a frustrating game," he said. "I think we were predictable this past game, but my play didn't help at all. The whole offense's play didn't help."
Walker was stoic on Wednesday, disappointed in the effort against Pittsburgh but confident that it will eventually be seen as an aberration. Fortunately, his quarterback is also putting that game behind him without any lingering doubts.
"It's not a loss of confidence by myself in them or them in me," said Johnson. "Stick together. It's one game that we threw away and now you bounce back. The biggest thing is to be able bounce back."
How to do that? Said Walker: "It's time to play. Time to go to work and do our job."