© St. Petersburg Times, published December 24, 2002
TAMPA -- Bucs receiver Keyshawn Johnson had a slow start Monday night, but once Rob Johnson entered the two hooked up for enough yards to put the receiver over 1,000 for consecutive seasons.
Keyshawn Johnson had 67 yards on four catches on the first drive with his former Southern Cal teammate behind center. It's the sixth time a Bucs receiver has passed the milestone, and the total, paired with last season's 1,266 yards, put Johnson with Kevin House (1981 and '84) as the only Bucs with two 1,000-yard seasons.
"I don't even really care about that; my numbers are always going to be the same because I'm a hell of a player," said Johnson, who had eight catches for 132 yards and a late touchdown to foil the Steelers' shutout. "I just want to win. If I would have won my 12th game tonight, it would obviously be a lot better."
With Shaun King at quarterback, Johnson had two catches for 33 yards on the first eight drives. King looked for the Bucs' top receiver on their opening drive but cornerback Chad Scott stepped in front of Johnson, intercepted the pass and ran 30 yards down the right sideline for a touchdown and 14-0 lead.
GOING DOWN HARD: The Bucs and Steelers weren't the only ones with grass stains on their uniforms. Rodney Espinola had the respect of his colleagues for the streaks of green on the left sleeve of his brown uniform.
Espinola, 41, a trooper with the Florida Highway Patrol, had one of the most celebrated tackles of the night after a man ran onto the field midway through the fourth quarter. As he made a break for the south end zone, six officers approached him, and as the man turned back toward the field Espinola ran him down and tackled him on the 29.
"Not bad for an old man," said Espinola, a 6-foot-3, 260-pound man with 20 years experience with FHP who said he last made such a tackle as a high school cornerback in Massachusetts.
FIRST-QUARTER WOES: Entering the game, the first quarter had been the Bucs' worst, only outscoring opponents 49-40. The early struggles were more obvious against Pittsburgh as the Bucs fell behind 17-0.
Monday marked the Bucs' seventh scoreless opening quarter in 15 games, but the first-half shutout was Tampa Bay's first. On three occasions the Bucs went into halftime with three points.
Tampa Bay's defense came in allowing a league-low 12.8 points a game but the Steelers surpassed that four minutes into the game. The 17 points allowed were a first-half season high for the Bucs.
FLAGS FLYING: The Bucs were called for unsportsmanlike conduct on back-to-back plays late in the second quarter. Warren Sapp was called for roughing the passer on a play in which he appeared to be blocked into quarterback Tommy Maddox. Maddox hopped around gingerly but did not leave the game. The flag and the play, a 13-yard pass to fullback Dan Kreider, moved Pittsburgh from the 50 to the Tampa Bay 22. A 14-yard Amos Zereoue run followed and Dexter Jackson was flagged for taunting, setting up first and goal on the 4. Two penalties backed Pittsburgh to the 19 and the Bucs recovered a Zereoue fumble.
STREAKS ALIVE: The defense kept two long streaks alive in the first half. Jackson's recovery of Zereoue's fumble, forced by Chartric Darby, made it 40 straight games for Tampa Bay with at least one takeaway, the longest current run in the league. Simeon Rice's first-quarter sack of Maddox not only gave him a team-best 15.5 this season, it extended the Bucs' streak to 59 games with at least one, also a current high.
BUCS BITS: Reds slugger Ken Griffey was among the guests and watched from the family suite of the Glazers, who own the team. Hall of Famer Ronnie Lott, whose son, Ryan Nece, made the team as a rookie linebacker but now is on injured reserve, took in his first Bucs game of the season. ... It was a strong night for punters: Tampa Bay's Tom Tupa had punts of 53 and 63 yards and Pittsburgh's Tom Rouen, signed last week, had a 40-yard punt that bounced inside the 2 and came to rest on the Tampa Bay 5 and another 55-yard effort ... Tight end Daniel Wilcox, signed to the 53-man roster last week as a potential boost to special teams, was among eight players the Bucs listed as inactive. So was Buck Gurley, thought to gain playing time at defensive tackle with the season-ending injury to Anthony McFarland last week.