Brad Johnson team's MVP
By RICK STROUD, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published December 29, 2002
CHAMPAIGN, Ill. -- Sometimes the only way to discover the value of a player is to try to win without him.
For that reason, Brad Johnson is the Bucs' most valuable player.
Considering he took over a new offense, played behind a porous line and got virtually no help from the rushing game, Johnson is responsible for most of Tampa Bay's success.
During one six-game stretch, he threw 15 touchdowns and one interception.
In his first game back after fracturing ribs, Johnson threw five touchdowns against Minnesota. His 22 TDs are a club record, and his 62.3 completion percentage is extraordinary considering he had -- by best count -- more than 50 throwaways.
"His touchdown-to-interception ratio is as good as any quarterback I've ever been around," coach Jon Gruden said.
BIGGEST WIN: The two victories over Atlanta? Perhaps the win over Green Bay. In the minds of many, it was the 12-9 squeaker at Carolina that was the turning point.
The Bucs had lost an emotional game at Philadelphia and were without Johnson, who had cracked ribs. While Rob Johnson struggled and failed to produce a touchdown, two key drives in the fourth quarter and four field goals by Martin Gramatica prevented a losing streak.
BIGGEST LOSS: Not New Orleans (twice), not Philadelphia, not even Pittsburgh. It was the loss of Anthony McFarland from which the Bucs have had trouble rebounding.
The defensive tackle missed four games with a broken right forearm. He made it back for two starts before breaking his right foot at Detroit. Since McFarland's first injury Oct.27, Warren Sapp has not had a sack.
BEST PERFORMANCE: Linebacker Derrick Brooks is a player of the year candidate and six-time Pro Bowl player. But he might have topped himself this season.
His four interception returns for touchdowns are one shy of the NFL record. And Brooks is the club's best tackler and emotional leader.
QUOTE OF THE YEAR: "He's a liar ... if he ain't a big enough man to say what he said, that ends this discussion." -- Sapp when told Packers coach Mike Sherman said he just wanted to express his displeasure over Sapp's hit on Chad Clifton.
MOST CONSISTENT: If everyone played like Simeon Rice, the Bucs would be in the Super Bowl.
The defensive end enters tonight's game with 151/2 sacks, one shy of the club record. He also proved he can play the run (73 tackles) and the pass (11 passes defensed).
MOST IMPROVED: The I-owe-Brian-Kelly-an-apology club is now accepting members.
Kelly, who had no interceptions in 2001, spent most of the season leading the NFC with six. With Ronde Barber playing opposite him at cornerback, Kelly knew he would be challenged. For the most part, he has answered.
"I have a whole bag of chips on my shoulder and I keep it there," Kelly said. "You try to test me, I'll make you pay."
MOST UNDERRATED: Barber was snubbed for the Pro Bowl, which was almost criminal. He has two interceptions. But that's because quarterbacks know he can blanket receivers, and they throw away from him.
BIGGEST DISAPPOINTMENT: Michael Pittman was placed in a bad position, having to replace popular and productive running back Warrick Dunn. But he has not played as advertised. While the running game has been poor behind a suspect line, Pittman's lack of power and inability to make defenders miss is alarming.
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