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Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Whatever Means Necessary

If the Bucs are going to ride the running game to the playoffs, WR Keyshawn Johnson is on board


As long as the Bucs are moving forward in the playoff race, Keyshawn Johnson is happy with the offense

Keyshawn Johnson has his head screwed on right.

That may have been in doubt for a few seconds on Sunday afternoon when a leaping catch and a simultaneous leg tackle by Dallas cornerback Phillippi Sparks sent the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' receiver into a head-over-heels spin. The spin ended halfway through, when Johnson landed on the turf directly on the back of his neck.

The play brought a grasp from the crowd as the landing was so awkward and so apparently painful. However, Johnson bounced back up a few seconds later and stayed in the game, and his 19-yard gain on that grab was a key play in a fourth-quarter touchdown drive that iced a 27-7 win for Tampa Bay.

Johnson led the Bucs in receiving on the day, but with only four catches. Mostly, Tampa Bay stuck to the ground, piling up a team-record 250 rushing yards. The 6-4, 212-pound Johnson was in for almost every snap, throwing downfield blocks as effectively as he always does.

On a 23-yard run by Warrick Dunn on the last play of the fourth quarter, Johnson provided a key block that helped Dunn get the last eight yards of that carry. In the fourth quarter, on the same drive that began with his 19-yard catch, Johnson went in motion from the left side and sealed off the end of the line with a strong block, allowing Dunn to prance around left end for a four-yard touchdown. Johnson had caught a five-yard pass on the other side of the field on the previous snap.

That's why Johnson believes the Buccaneers can succeed with an offense showing a very strong emphasis on the run but putting up low passing numbers. "What do we have, over 400 rushing yards in the last two games?" he asked. "You can't question that. Most of our turnovers have cost us games…we'd have a better record without the turnovers. And most of our turnovers have been in the air. If we keep it on the ground and protect the football, we can advance."

Johnson, the team's leading receiver and a hardnosed contributor no matter what type of play is called, claims not to be concerned over his own receiving totals, even if Head Coach Tony Dungy hints that he might be employed to greater use against his former AFC East nemeses, the Miami Dolphins.

"If I do, I do," said Johnson. "If I don't, I don't. Winning football games is the most important thing.

"I want to win, in whatever fashion we're going to do it. In 2001, I look forward to throwing the football, but right now I'm just looking forward to winning games. We're not a throwing team right now, we're a running team. I guess we've found our 'identity'."

Dungy, however, believes Johnson will be a key figure in the Bucs' three-game stretch drive. Tampa Bay is mired in a deep playoff field and probably needs to win at least two of its last three games. That won't be easy, with road games at Miami and Green Bay sandwiching a home game against the St. Louis Rams.

"Everybody's been asking all year why Keyshawn is here, 'What is the plan?'" said Dungy. "When you get into December and you get into big games, you're going to need people to make big plays. We think he's going to be able to do that. He's done that against (the Dolphins) in the past. They're outstanding and playing very well. But we are definitely going to try to get him the ball."

Johnson is looking forward to renewing a rivalry with the talented Miami secondary, though he still seems unconvinced that balls will be coming his way on Sunday.

"I know they have two terrific corners," he said. "I don't really know what kind of season they're having because I'm not in the AFC anymore. "I haven't seen their games this year. But Sam Madison is one of the top three corners I've ever played against and Patrick Surtain pushed the veteran, (Terrell) Buckley, out so you know he can play. They shouldn't have their work cut out for them, though, based on our recent games. I'll be blocking them all game long."

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