Highlighted by three long TDs, the passing game stretches out a bit.
By RICK STROUD, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times, published September 30, 2002
CINCINNATI -- Keep the quarterback from getting horizontal and the Bucs passing game can become more vertical.
That was the lesson learned from Sunday's 35-7 win against the Bengals.
All three of Brad Johnson's touchdown passes were for more than 20 yards, including a 65-yard throw to receiver Keenan McCardell, the longest since Johnson came to the Bucs.
McCardell, the free agent from Jacksonville, led the Bucs with four catches for 108 yards, a 27-yard average.
"It's good. It's very good. It kind of gets (the media) off our backs about big plays," McCardell said. "You guys have been harping we can't get downfield. We got downfield. They come. You pick your time to go downfield and we picked our time. They were jumping a lot of our curl routes. Everybody upstairs saw it. It's what we wanted to see. We wanted to see if they were doing their homework and we caught them off guard."
The Bengals should not have been surprised that McCardell had a big game against them Sunday. It was the fourth time McCardell had gone over the 100-yard receiving mark in his career against Cincinnati.
"Every Sunday I feel like I'm going to have a good day," he said. "It just so happens they've come against these guys. I just play. I'm not going to say I get up for the Bengals. I get up for everybody. Today Brad was looking for me and I made some plays."
McCardell had help. He wound up virtually uncovered on the touchdown pass when three Bengals went after Keyshawn Johnson on a pattern underneath.
"We ran a little curl route with Keyshawn and I was in the slot," McCardell said. "I turned it up, everybody jumped the curl and I went outside and was wide open. I'll take them like that all the time if they're going to leave me open. Keyshawn drew a lot of attention on that play."
Keyshawn Johnson said he knew immediately McCardell would be alone for the score.
"As soon as I saw the safety running at me, I said, 'Keenan ought to have a touchdown,' " he said. "You talk about players in this league and what they can do even if they're not getting the football in their hands. When you get three or four guys jump at me, it's just ridiculous."
Just as impressive as McCardell's TD catch were two receptions that converted long third downs.
"He always makes big plays," Brad Johnson said. "It was nice to see him make the big touchdown pass for us. We really completed two unbelievable third-and-long plays.
"That's where we've struggled, at the 30- or 35-yard line. We had a penalty there. That was a third and 11. That was probably one of the biggest plays for us all day."
For the Bucs, Sunday's game was vindication that given enough time, the passing game can strike deep.
"I don't know why people say that. You hear them all the time say we don't throw the ball vertically, but we do," Keyshawn Johnson said. "We've got to be averaging X amount of catches over 18 yards. Every game, we hit one or two of them.
"Maybe they think you're supposed to drop back and throw a bomb every time, but that's not our offense."