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Quarterback keeps fighting through pain

Brad Johnson returns to lead a rally against Green Bay despite an eye injury that blurred his vision.

By DARRELL FRY, Times Staff Writer

© St. Petersburg Times, published November 25, 2002

Brad Johnson returns to lead a rally against Green Bay despite an eye injury that blurred his vision.

TAMPA -- It was a simple toss play to running back Michael Pittman on the Bucs' third play of the game Sunday. Quarterback Brad Johnson took the snap and made his pivot to his left, and that's when he saw Pittman.

Both Pittmans.

"I couldn't see who I was pitching it to," said Johnson, suffering from double vision. "I saw two of those guys running, but I got it to the right one."

Johnson was poked in the right eye on the previous play by defensive end Vonnie Holliday, who tried to deflect a Johnson pass but inadvertently caught the quarterback in the eyes.

Johnson left the game after the pitch play. But, showing the toughness he has displayed throughout the season, he returned after missing about a quarter to lead the Bucs to their 21-7 victory.

Johnson, who completed his first two passes before the injury, finished 15-for-25 for 134 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions -- an efficient if not spectacular performance.

"I can't say enough about Brad Johnson," coach Jon Gruden said of his starting quarterback, who played with sore ribs the past two games against Minnesota and Carolina. "He still had some irritation in the eye and some vision problems, but what he's done for this team. ... I don't care what anyone says. He's in uncharted waters with the cracked ribs and the blurred vision and coming out and playing like he's playing."

After the Holliday hit, Johnson alertly motioned to backup Rob Johnson to get ready to replace him after the next play, the pitch to Pittman.

Johnson was treated on the sideline with eye drops. When that didn't work, he went to the locker room, where trainers checked his vision repeatedly.

"I couldn't see at the beginning. Everything was double," Johnson said. "My left eye was clear. My right eye was seeing everything double."

Johnson returned to the sideline but couldn't see clearly. The team summoned an eye specialist, sending Johnson back to the locker room. Johnson said he was told his vision likely would clear up in time and he returned to the sideline to test it against the lights and backdrop of the stadium, but he still was seeing double.

"It didn't come around as quickly as I had hoped," Gruden said. "I kept saying, "Come on. You're ready. You've got to get ready.' But fortunately for us he was able to come back and play a big, big role in this win."

Gruden wasn't the only one anxious for Johnson to return.

"You want your guy out there," safety John Lynch said. "We've got great belief in Rob and (third-stringer) Shaun (King). But you want your guy out there. Brad's the guy this team rallies around, so yeah, we were looking around for No. 14."

Johnson said he didn't feel he could see well enough to play until early in the second quarter.

Even then his vision wasn't perfect. He returned with 10:04 left in the second quarter.

"I was kind of worried about taking a hit and kind of the same thing happening," Johnson said. "I wasn't sure if anything was torn in there, either."

On his second play back, Johnson completed his first pass, a 5-yarder to receiver Keenan McCardell. His next one was well-thrown, but careened off Keyshawn Johnson's hands. He completed four of his next six passes before halftime, when he was re-examined by an eye specialist, who confirmed that his right eye was fine.

In the second half, Johnson was 8-for-15 for 60 yards, including the two touchdown passes and the two-point conversion pass that brought Tampa Bay back from a 7-6 deficit.

"(The injured right eye) had no effect the rest of the night, once I was back in there," Johnson said.

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