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Line provides plenty of time to throw ball

By BRANT JAMES, KRISTEN LEIGH PORTER

© St. Petersburg Times, published December 9, 2002


TAMPA -- While the Falcons' Michael Vick was sacked twice, Bucs quarterback Brad Johnson went down only once.

Bucs guard Kerry Jenkins said the offensive line prides itself on keeping Johnson safe.

"As an offensive line, we're trying to take it one step at a time and get better every week," he said. "When he gets his time, he's able to make good throws. And he lets us know."

Center Jeff Christy said the Falcons pressured Johnson and tried to keep the offense guessing.

"We were able to execute a little bit better than Atlanta," he said. "And we were able to pick up the blitzes a little bit better than in the past."

Falcons cornerback Ray Buchanan gave credit to Johnson and the line.

"He did a great job, and we didn't get to the quarterback like we normally do," he said.

So shouldn't Johnson treat Jenkins, Christy and the rest of the line to steak dinners?

"I don't know about that yet," Jenkins said. "But we'll see."

FAMOUS FACES: Rapper Jay-Z was spotted on the Bucs sideline. He was a guest of defensive tackle Warren Sapp, who did not disappoint.

"I came to see my homey Sapp play, and he did his thing," he said.

Russell Simmons, the founder of the Def Jam record label and Phat Farm clothing line, also was present.

MAIN MAN: NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue attended the game and addressed topics ranging from realignment to overtime. Neither likely will change soon, he said.

Tagliabue said the ban on ephedrine, found in many dietary supplements, would remain, but the issue will be discussed after the season.

Tagliabue said fines for hits have increased in relation to salaries. He declined to comment on Sapp's hit on Green Bay's Chad Clifton on Nov.24. MR. NEUTRAL: Right defensive end Simeon Rice's league record for consecutive multisack games ended at five.

Rice said he knew he was a key in stopping the Falcons, however.

"We understand (Vick) likes to run to his (left)," Rice said. "That's my side of the line. I understand he did not conceptualize the respect he should have, and I think right now, he has. I may not have gotten a sack, but it was a neutralizing thing."

Rice, who made two tackles and knocked down a pass, did not begrudge Vick his pregame comments about how he would attack the Bucs defense.

"I felt like that when I was a rookie," Rice said. "When I was a rookie, I thought I was unstoppable. He will probably feel the same way after this game because he can go into his repertoire and think back and say, 'Yeah, that was (against) one team. What about all the others?' "

TAUNT: This NFC South rivalry is getting good. Receiver Joe Jurevicius said the celebration after his second-quarter touchdown was a chicken dance, as requested by his nieces, although it looked similar to the Falcons' old "Dirty Bird" end zone routine.

There was no doubt other Bucs mocked the Falcons later, however. After scoring his second touchdown, receiver Keenan McCardell engaged in the "spread-the-magic" finger twiddle the Atlanta defense began. And Aaron Stecker did a wounded "Dirty Bird" during the second half.

FRIENDLY FOE: Bucs nose tackle Anthony McFarland spent 26:02 about a foot from one of his best friends but didn't bother to fraternize. McFarland lined up against center Todd McClure, a friend from their days at LSU.

"We talked before the game and all and a little bit after," McFarland said. "But we didn't say much during."

NO DUNN: Former Bucs running back Warrick Dunn was absent from a Falcons offense in need of help. Atlanta coach Dan Reeves said Dunn, who has a sprained right ankle, could have played but was held out when the Bucs asserted control so decisively on defense, limiting the Falcons to three-and-outs on four of their first five drives.

"It changed us a little bit," Vick said. "We couldn't set up screens and get him involved in the passing game. So it did take away a little bit from our game plan."

BUCS BITS: At 10-3, the team is one victory shy of its record for most in a season, set in 1999. ... The Bucs have a sack in 57 consecutive games, the longest current streak in the NFL, and have an interception in 12 of 13 games this season. They did not intercept one last week against New Orleans. ... The Bucs' 21 second-quarter points matched a season high. ... Mike Alstott had his two longest runs of the season, 27 and 32 yards. His high was 25 against Cleveland on Oct.3.

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