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Keyshawn meets vertical challenge

With a 76-yard TD reception, Johnson begins to shake off the label of possession receiver.

By RICK STROUD, Times Staff Writer

© St. Petersburg Times, published October 7, 2002

With a 76-yard TD reception, Johnson begins to shake off the label of possession receiver.

ATLANTA -- Keyshawn Johnson may never be asked to be an AT&T pitchman, but he proved he knows something about long distance.

Johnson's 76-yard touchdown reception Sunday may have helped erase his stigma as a possession receiver. It also wiped out the mark for the longest of his career and provided the winning points in Tampa Bay's 20-6 victory over the Falcons.

"I've always complained that I don't go vertical, as the critics would say, that I'm a possession guy; I'm not a vertical receiver," Johnson said. "But for some reason, in past years under (Tony) Dungy, we didn't throw the ball vertical. But this year, I've had numerous catches over 20 yards."

The flamboyant receiver finished with six catches for a season-high 131 yards, a 21.8-yard average. But none of his catches have been bigger than the TD Sunday.

Trailing 6-3 late in the third and bogged down with poor field position, Johnson was one on one with cornerback Juran Bolden. Quarterback Brad Johnson lofted a perfect pass to Johnson, who broke Bolden's tackle and jogged to the end zone holding the ball aloft the last 30 yards.

Then Johnson flipped the ball into the stands and had some words for Atlanta fans before teammates pulled him away.

"I was trying to get the ball to a lady," he said. "Some guy took it away from her and I was telling him to give it back."

Just getting in the end zone is news for Johnson. His TD against the Falcons was his first of the year, fifth in his past 27 games. He had 13 in his first 26 games.

Until Johnson's touchdown, the Bucs offense struggled. Brad Johnson lost a fumble on his second offensive snap and was intercepted trying to hit Keyshawn Johnson late in the first half.

Coach Jon Gruden said the offense had trouble getting untracked until Johnson's touchdown.

"We fumbled on our second play and Atlanta had a 3-0 lead, then they on-side kick the ball," he said. "We don't see it much in the first quarter. We did sustain a couple pretty good drives, unfortunately (only) one of them ends in a touchdown. ... We kept punching and kept punching and Keyshawn delivers a big blow late in the game."

Johnson knew when the Falcons left him in man coverage with Bolden it would be a big play.

"It's something where I guess they matched the guy up with me because of his size, but I'm not just a big guy," he said. "I've got a little bit of quickness in me, and I don't think he was able to stay with that. He thought maybe he was able to get his hands on me and that would be enough."

Johnson bristles at the tag of being a possession receiver. On Sunday, he possessed the ability to deliver a big play.

"The best receivers in the game are all possession receivers, what's wrong with that?" Johnson said.

"Gruden throws the ball a little more vertical and people still give him a tag and say he doesn't throw the ball vertical. But we understand, Rickey Dudley's touchdown in Cincinnati is vertical, Keenan (McCardell's) touchdown in Cincinnati, that's vertical to us. So finally everybody gets to see what fans and media would say is a go route. There you go. Now hopefully everybody is happy."

-- Information from the Associated Press was used in this report.

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