© St. Petersburg Times, published December 24, 2002
TALK OF THE TOWN
Five topics suitable for inane debate on talk radio:
POINT PROVEN: Shaun King and Rob Johnson have done wonders for Brad Johnson's MVP campaign. In the two games he did not start, the Bucs went 24 consecutive possessions without a TD before the late score Monday. In his 13 starts, the Bucs averaged 24 points. In the other two games, they averaged 9.5.
THE IMPACT: The Bucs likely will have to win the first road playoff game in franchise history to reach the Super Bowl. Tampa Bay cannot be the No. 1 seed in the NFC. That means the only way the NFC Championship Game is at Raymond James is if the Eagles are upset in the second week of the playoffs. As for a first-round bye, the Bucs need to win in Chicago Sunday night and hope the Jets upset the Packers.
ALTERNATE PROGRAMMING: The night wasn't a total loss. You could switch to the Bernie Mac Show at 9:30 and not miss a thing. In the first 21 plays, the Steelers got six first downs, two TDs, a field goal and, as it turns out, a victory.
MISSING BOOGER: Not since 1995 has Warren Sapp had such difficulty getting to quarterbacks. Not so coincidentally his woes began at the same time as Booger McFarland's injuries. When McFarland broke his arm in Week 8, Sapp had 7.5 sacks. He still has 7.5 sacks.
DINK ABOUT IT: The rap against Brad Johnson is he throws too many short passes to backs. Turns out, that's what makes the offense go. There were too many incompletions (23), too many sacks (6) and not enough dinks and dunks to keep drives alive. Brad, we beg your forgiveness.
Five Christmas gifts we would like to see under NFL trees:
5: For Steve Spurrier: Vanderbilt.
4: For Nate Newton: a better connection.
3: For Jerry Jones: a facelift. (This time for his team.)
2: For Kurt Warner: ESPN Classic.
1: For Bill Parcells: a conscience.
5: Tampa Bay's defense is capable of shutting down any team. In three games against division leaders -- Philadelphia, Green Bay and Pittsburgh -- the defense allowed four TDs. (And lost twice.)
4: The offense is on its hottest roll in years. Before this debacle, the Bucs had six straight games of 20 or more points. That's their longest streak since 1998. (Though Brad Johnson now needs help tying his shoes.)
3: The Bucs have found a comfortable balance with Michael Pittman and Mike Alstott in the running game. (And they comfortably gained 48 yards Monday.)
2: Tampa Bay is relatively healthy. McFarland is the only starter lost for the season. (But if Johnson's back does not heal, the Bucs are goners.)
1: The Bears are up next. (On the road.)
Checking out the best bets (and the Bucs) for Super Bowl XXXVII in San Diego:
1. EAGLES: The last game at the Vet could be the NFC Championship.
2. RAIDERS: If they just could get an old DB with an aversion to tackling.
3. PACKERS: If the Eagles fall, the Packers have a shot at the No. 1 seed.
4. BUCS: Not to worry, but the Bucs are 0-5 in December games at Chicago.
5. TITANS: No Pro Bowl players, but they could have the MVP.
What's the temperature in Wisconsin?