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Offense gets help from all around

The tight ends and running backs aid Brad Johnson's 23-for-32 night and the offensive line shows progress.

By ROGER MILLS, Times Staff Writer

© St. Petersburg Times, published September 24, 2002

The tight ends and running backs aid Brad Johnson's 23-for-32 night and the offensive line shows progress.

TAMPA -- It was supposed to be a shootout featuring two of the NFL's most aggressive offensive minds.

A game played up and down the field.

But thanks to two solid defensive performances, it was a chess match of hard-to-come-by yards and gritty, determined play.

A game played inch by inch.

And someone had to make a decisive play.

Okay, so it was a defensive play by Bucs linebacker Derrick Brooks that clinched the game for the Bucs, but who's checking?

"It's a work in progress, but little by little, step by step, it's coming," guard Cosey Coleman said. "The running game isn't quite where we want it to be yet, but everything is getting there."

The Bucs' search for continuity on offense is not over, but there appears no desperate need to recruit Indiana Jones.

Despite staggering at times and stalling deep inside Rams territory twice, the offense seemed to be ironing out the kinks, at least in the first half.

A unit incapable of scoring against the Ravens last week did a few things right Monday night.

Enough little things, at least, to give the Bucs a 26-14 victory.

And those little things came from a lot of people.

Quarterback Brad Johnson was 23-of-32 for 199 yards and a touchdown. Johnson opened the game playing with the kind of savvy that makes him appear a perfect fit for Jon Gruden's offense.

Using smart, high-percentage passes, Johnson completed his first six and finished the first half 16-of-21 for 161 yards and a score.

Johnson piloted the Bucs to drives of 11 and 10 plays that took 10 minutes off the clock.

Then there were the tight ends. The position promised to feature prominently in the Bucs' plans and Tampa Bay's trio each contributed.

Starter Ken Dilger routinely got open and had five receptions for 38 yards.

Backup Todd Yoder, in his third year, chipped in with a 16-yard reception in the second quarter to keep alive the only touchdown drive of the half.

And newly signed Rickey Dudley, who joined the team Wednesday, made his debut in a Bucs uniform memorable by catching a 9-yard touchdown.

"It felt great," Dudley said. "I haven't been on Monday Night Football since my days with the Raiders, so it was big."

The running backs, maligned for not generating enough yardage on the ground through the first two games, were slightly better.

Michael Pittman had 53 yards on 11 carries and added six catches for 28 yards.

And Mike Alstott, quiet for the bulk of the game, scored a touchdown on a classic 2-yard bulldozer special with 10:42 left in which he ran over linebacker Tommy Polley and gave the Bucs a 19-7 lead.

"Coach Gruden has brought so many people new to the offense, so it is going to take some time for everything to work," Pittman said. "We're getting better every week."

The offensive line, which has endured some abuse the past few weeks, protected Johnson more than well enough, allowing one sack, despite losing Kerry Jenkins to a broken left fibula.

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