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Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Team Player

Erstwhile Jet Keyshawn Johnson has just one goal against his former team: win


WR Keyshawn Johnson understands that he is a target whether the pass comes his way or not

Keyshawn Johnson, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' star receiver, has never played an NFL game in which he has not caught at least one pass. He'd be willing to see that 65-game streak end, be willing to hang that first zero, as long as the Bucs' loss total remains stuck on zero as well.

He'd even be willing to see that happen this Sunday, when his former team, the New York Jets, visits Raymond James Stadium for the NFL's premier battle of the unbeatens.

"I could care less," said Johnson on Wednesday, speaking to a special assemblage of media called because he is such a hot topic this week. "I can go zero. As long as I win the football game and go 4-0, that puts me closer to that January date. That's all I care about."

As Johnson made a point of mentioning, the import of new offensive coordinator Les Steckel and offensive linemen Jeff Christy and Randall McDaniel have helped affect a profound improvement in the Bucs' attack. Still, that doesn't obscure the fact that the team's highest-profile newcomer has made an obvious impact. That goes beyond his team-leading 14 receptions.

"One of the things that I think is a misconception is that I lobby for the football," said Johnson. "I could care less. Really, I could care less if I catch passes. As long as we win the football game, I know that I've done my job.

"Randall McDaniel caught a touchdown pass in Detroit, and there were three guys on me. That's all I care about. I've done my part. There's three guys standing around me, so that means, if you account for three guys, someone's open. Give it to him. Boom…touchdown. I get joy out of that."

Though there are certainly many other factors, Johnson's presence has helped the Bucs make a quick turnaround in the red zone. After ranking last in the league in red zone touchdown percentage last season, Tampa Bay is on top of that list so far in 2000, finding the end zone on 81.8% of their drives inside the 20.

"I think it's just execution," said Johnson. "We know that once we get inside the 20 yard line, we have some positive points. When we get to the 22-yard line, we're really thinking seven. As long as we don't do anything…false starts, holding calls, anything like that…I think, offensively, we can probably stay at 100%, or close to it."

The Bucs, thanks to Steckel's influence, actually refer to that area as the Green Zone. On Sunday, though, the interest in Johnson will be in the green-and-white zone, everywhere the Jets defense patrols. New York is expected to put special emphasis on stopping their departed son. "If I don't catch a pass in this game, that means they've done something tremendously to take me out of the game," said Johnson. "I've caught a pass in every game I've played in. That would mean they loaded up. They said, 'We ain't letting him catch *a pass."

Somehow, you get the distinct impression that Johnson doesn't really expect that outcome. However, he does sincerely believe the Jets are strong on that side of the ball.

"They've got a real good defense," he said. "I've always known that. Their front seven is playing very good. The linebackers are obviously their strength. Victor Green is a guy that I consider part of their front seven. And they're playing good football."

Both teams are, really. But only one can finish the weekend at 4-0 and that, more than any catch streak or final statistics, is what motivates Johnson.

"Things that are important to me, I tend to take it to another level," he said. "I just tend to do that. Whether it's big-time games, whether it's third-and-20 and I know that it's going down…I tend to take it to another level. I know how important for us to continue to keep our defense fresh and off the field." *

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