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Third receiver Bucs' first-down target

Possession man Joe Jurevicius moves chains on all eight receptions, including two TDs.

By BRANT JAMES, Times Staff Writer

© St. Petersburg Times, published December 9, 2002

TAMPA -- The drop gnawed at Joe Jurevicius for a week.

With six minutes left in a 23-20 loss at New Orleans Dec. 1, Brad Johnson found the receiver open for an apparent first down on third and 9 from the Saints 37. Jurevicius, whose job description starts with putting his 6-foot-5 frame in front of such passes and gaining first downs, dropped it. Just dropped it.

That would not, could not happen anymore, he thought.

"I was kind of ticked off," he said. "I caught a fourth and 4 and dropped a third and 9. I don't want to be known for that."

Jurevicius saw to that Sunday, setting a career high with 100 receiving yards and scoring two touchdowns in a 34-10 rout that kept the Bucs atop the NFC South.

Jurevicius, signed as a free agent in the offseason, tied a career high with eight catches, had his second career two-touchdown game and with four scores this season surpassed his high, set last season with the Giants.

"(He was) a big player in this game today," coach Jon Gruden said. "He made some big plays on third down and had some clutch catches for touchdowns. That was a great acquisition by the Bucs."

It was a rare day for a possession receiver, especially one third in the pecking order to Keyshawn Johnson and Keenan McCardell, who also caught two touchdowns.

"I think the one reason they brought me here was for third downs," he said. "I might not get the numbers Keenan or Keyshawn might get, but I really think that I have something to contribute, and every opportunity I get, I will try to do it."

Each of Jurevicius' catches, three of which came on third down, generated a first down as he pulled in throws of 22, 17, 13, and 12 yards.

Jurevicius gave the Bucs a 7-0 lead with 11:12 left in the second quarter when he pulled away from linebacker Keith Brooking, who committed pass interference on the play, and caught a 10-yard touchdown.

Fulfilling a promise to his nieces, he performed a chicken dance in the end zone.

Two plays after a Dexter Jackson interception set up the Bucs at the Falcons 10 later in the quarter, Jurevicius caught a 13-yard pass over the middle against cornerback Ray Buchanan for a 14-0 lead.

"I was just trying to clear the safety out for another receiver and it just so happened the coverage dictated the throw to Brad," Jurevicius said. "He was able to put it up and let me make a play."

The 5-9 Buchanan, who as one of the league's best trash-talkers was unhappy with the receiver's histrionics, was baited into a 15-yard unsportsmanlike conduct call in the third quarter. After Jurevicius caught a pass along the right sideline and bulled 13 yards to the first-down marker, he lunged to give a "first down" signal, then rolled the ball toward Buchanan's feet. The cornerback swatted it toward Jurevicius, drawing the flag for taunting.

"Ray Buchanan has seen enough of him," Bucs cornerback Ronde Barber said.

"I think my thing is I will play with emotion," Jurevicius said. "A lot of times I see our defense get very excited and I want to do that with our offense. I want to catch it and get hit and run over somebody."

Jurevicius had a physical edge over Buchanan in height and strength, but he balked at the perception he picked on a smaller man. When told Buchanan was playing on a bad ankle, he responded, "I have a bad ankle, too."

"I don't think I have ever seen a 6-5 corner," he said. "(But) those small corners have some things I can't do. I have some things I have to use and that's my size and strength."

Never better than Sunday.

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