© St. Petersburg Times, published November 4, 2002
TAMPA -- The Bucs offensive line has received its share of criticism.
The running game was suspect at best, and quarterbacks more often than not had little time to settle their feet in the pocket and throw. Three-step drops often became two-step falls.
The unit's performance against the Vikings Sunday was cause for optimism.
The running game produced 133 yards (43 above the Bucs' average), and quarterback Brad Johnson, with time to throw, completed 24 of 31 passes for 313 yards and a career-high five touchdowns. Johnson had an off-the-charts quarterback rating of 148.3, well above the 80.6 rating with which he entered.
"It definitely feels good any time you contribute, and today I definitely feel like we contributed," center Jeff Christy said.
Tackle Kenyatta Walker said the unit expected to play well, especially after watching tape of the Vikings last week.
"Minnesota is not one of the strongest lines in the league," Walker said. "Not to take anything away from them, but we felt the whole week that we were better."
Sunday, the Bucs proved it.
After allowing 24 sacks through eight games, Tampa Bay allowed none Sunday. Johnson, who returned after missing one game with cracked ribs, made the Vikings pay early and often.
"The offensive line played tremendously today, especially with what I was going through with the rib thing," Johnson said. "I really didn't get hit all day. Those guys dominated up front and helped us play the way that we did. It was a good day offensively."
Even Bucs defenders took notice.
"It all started up front," linebacker Derrick Brooks said. "You see when the offensive line plays well what this offense can do."
The question now: Can the Bucs continue to play like this?
"We went out and did what we were supposed to do," Walker said. "We did a great job, but we definitely can do better."
HAVE ONE ON KEY: When Keyshawn Johnson caught a 2-yard touchdown from Brad Johnson in the second quarter, he threw the ball into the stands, where it was caught by Pat Hebda of Sarasota in the third row of Section 214.
"I didn't think he had that good of an arm; that's a 50-yard pass," said Hebda, 36, who said he attends a few Bucs games a year.
Hebda said he caught a home run ball hit by Cal Ripken in spring training. He threw the ball back onto the field, which got him ejected from the stadium. After he caught Johnson's pass, he was offered $500 for the ball, but he said he'll take it home to his 2-year-old daughter, Sophia.
"I had to fight about seven guys to get it," Hebda said. "I don't think Keyshawn would have caught that."
When Johnson scored in the third quarter, he ran to back of the end zone and handed the ball to a youngster in the first row wearing a No. 19 jersey.
GOOD MEMORIES: Receiver Karl Williams entered with two catches for 12 yards. He had four receptions for 49 yards and a touchdown, with a long of 17 yards.
BAD MEMORIES: Viking guard Corbin Lacina had one of those days a player would like to forget. The ninth-year vet had a holding penalty in the first quarter that nullified a 40-yard touchdown from Daunte Culpepper to Randy Moss. The score would have tied it at 7, but Minnesota had to punt two plays later. Lacina sprained his knee early in the second quarter and did not return.
ONE AND DONE: Bucs reserve tailback Aaron Stecker had one carry for 59 yards, giving him 122 yards on 17 carries, a 7.1-yard average. The players ahead of him on the depth chart, Michael Pittman and Mike Alstott, have averages of 3.5 and 3.2, respectively.
Coach Jon Gruden was asked after the game if he had given thought to getting Stecker more carries.
"You've got a lot of people working on me to get Alstott the ball more," Gruden said, joking. "Now you want Stecker, too?"
ODDS AND ENDS: The Bucs have won five straight over the Vikings at home and hold a 102-51 scoring edge in the past three. ... Bucs defensive tackle Warren Sapp, a seven-year veteran, recorded his third career interception. He has two this season. Sapp also saw action at tight end in a first-half goal-line situation. ... Defensive end Simeon Rice, with two sacks, has five in his past three games and 71/2 for the season. ... For the first time this season, the Bucs scored on their first four possessions. ... Because it was Military Appreciation Day, Gen. Tommy Franks of Central Command participated as an honorary coin toss captain during pregame ceremonies.