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Media designate QB Johnson MVP

11-year vet Brad Johnson, in his second year with the Bucs, has one of his best seasons.

By ROGER MILLS, Times Staff Writer

© St. Petersburg Times, published December 30, 2002

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. -- He has a broken rib and walks with a back bruise so deep you can see it from the front.

Bucs quarterback Brad Johnson has bumps and bruises all over his body -- from one game.

At least there is this: As Tampa Bay makes its fifth playoff appearance in six seasons, the 11-year veteran was voted the St. Petersburg Times' team MVP by writers who regularly cover the team.

Johnson won by an 11-1 vote, with linebacker Derrick Brooks receiving the other. Johnson is the first quarterback to win the award since Trent Dilfer in 1997.

"It's very impressive but not too surprising," general manager Rich McKay said. "Brad had a pretty good year for us last year and probably didn't get the credit he deserved because we really didn't protect real well. This year, we protected a little bit better.

"When given the time, Brad is going to be a very effective guy. A lot of Brad's value is his toughness. In a game, toughness can mean two things. It can mean physical toughness where you can take a hit, but it can also mean mental toughness. I thought Brad did a nice job in adverse situations; he was able to hang on and win games."

Johnson, in his second season with the Bucs, had one of his best as a pro playing 13 games. He completed 281-of-451 for 3,049 yards, with 22 touchdowns and six interceptions. He finished with a 62.3 completion percentage and his 92.9 quarterback rating is second highest in the NFC, fifth highest in the league.

Past winners include receiver Keyshawn Johnson (2001), running back Warrick Dunn (2000) and Brooks (1998, 1999).

The effort, which garnered Johnson Pro Bowl consideration, was particularly gutsy considering the offensive turnaround the Bucs endured during the offseason. Johnson had to pick up a new offensive system under new coach Jon Gruden. The Bucs also added nine free agents on offense.

"What I give him a lot of credit for is that he's learned and absorbed Jon's system very well," McKay said. "And I give credit to Jon for learning Brad and how he can operate within it."

Brooks had a scorching start to the season, with four interceptions and four touchdown returns through the first five games. He had his fifth interception Sunday night, returning it 44 yards.

"It's the same season Derrick Brooks has every year, a very good one," McKay said. "He plays big in big games, plays consistent week in and week out. He's a great football player."

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