QB Brad Johnson was pleased with the protection given him by the Bucs' offensive line on Sunday
Keyshawn Johnson knew it would be a bad idea to stop. If he did, he wasn't sure he'd be able to start again.
Less than two minutes into Tampa Bay's game at Dallas on Sunday, Johnson ran a post over the middle, caught a bullet from QB Brad Johnson on the right hash marks and was instantly leveled by a well-timed George Teague hit. Johnson held on to the ball, but paid for the 19-yard gain with a pound of bruised thigh flesh.
Johnson had to leave the game for a few snaps after that play, which literally knocked his shoe off, but he returned on the same drive and played through pain for the rest of the game. He was hampered throughout, prevented from accelerating completely and unable to stop or start quickly.
The Bucs did give some thought to keeping Johnson on the sideline for awhile, but it was felt that once Johnson stopped moving, he would stiffen up and be unable to return if the Bucs needed a four-receiver set. So the gritty, ultra-tough receiver gutted it out, going on to catch five more passes and provide a string of good blocks for the running game.
"(He was) pretty limited," admitted Head Coach Tony Dungy. "In hindsight, maybe we should have played Karl (Williams). The thing that we knew was that if he every stopped playing, he wasn't going to be able to go back in.
"But he did a good job. He fought through it and blocked well. He could have made some more things happen downfield had he been healthy, but that's the way it was."
He won't be asked to tough it out on Monday, when the Bucs hold a light, 30-minute practice session late in the afternoon. Though Johnson reported to team headquarters in slightly better condition than expected on Monday morning, he may not see much practice time at all this week.
"Keyshawn, I think, is going to be okay by game time," said Dungy. "He's going to have a rough week of practice. He's got a bad thigh bruise and some swelling in there.
"We think he'll be okay by the end of the week."
The throwing Johnson will also take it easy on Monday, but not due to his own string of hard hits suffered on Sunday. Johnson was knocked down quite often by the oft-blitzing Dallas defense and is feeling the usual day-after-game soreness, but the decision to rest his throwing arm on Monday is simply a part of his weekly plan to keep that weapon fresh.
"I actually feel like the offensive line did a great job protecting," said Johnson. "The two sacks I took were coverage sacks – I tried to run the ball because guys weren't open. I took a couple hits when I had to buy some time, but that's just part of the game."
Like his receiving counterpart, Johnson showed a lot of toughness on Sunday, getting up without delay after each hard hit, most notably a helmet-to-helmet shot from Darren Woodson that drew a flag and prolonged a Buccaneer drive. Johnson expects that of himself and his teammates.
"I think that shows the warrior that he is," said Brad Johnson of Keyshawn Johnson's willingness to continue despite being well below 100 percent. "He took some hard hits last year and kind of got people's attention that he can play through pain. He's a tough ballplayer, and I admire him for what he did yesterday. That's expected of him, that's expected of all of us, to play through those situations."
Dungy is not surprised by either player's reaction to the hard-nosed battle waged in Dallas.
"It just signifies what we're all about," he said. "We had a lot of guys go down there determined to win, and I think that's why we won."
Brad Johnson will practice as usual beginning Wednesday, but Dungy wasn't sure that Keyshawn Johnson would be able to join him on either Wednesday or Thursday, when the Bucs do the majority of their game plan installation.
"I think it's going to be tight, but we'll see," said Dungy. The Buccaneers' training room considers Johnson 'questionable' for that first practice; a determination of his status for Sunday's game won't come until Wednesday.
Happily, Johnson's thigh bruise was the only injury of note suffered by the Bucs in Dallas. "To come off a physical game on Astroturf with only one major problem is probably a blessing," said Dungy.
That leaves center Jeff Christy's knee as the most immediate injury concern for the team. Since sustaining that left knee sprain in Cleveland on August 18, the ninth-year veteran has missed three contests, including his first regular-season game absence since 1997. Fourth-year player Todd Washington took his place against Dallas and rookie Leon Hires was signed off the practice squad to give the Bucs one interior-line backup.
Though Washington has performed very well in a starting role, Christy's eventual return will put another former Pro Bowler back into the Bucs lineup and will restore the line's usual depth. Washington is the team's best option to back up center and both guard spots.
Christy's original prognosis of four to six weeks of recovery would put him on the cusp of a possible return this week. It was still to early to tell on Monday if that would occur or if the team would wait until after the Eagles game and the bye week that follows to bring him back into live action.
"Jeff is going to do a little individual work on Wednesday, then we'll see where he's at," said Dungy. I think there's a possibility of him playing."