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Dropping off Key: Balls go to Lee, others get free

The Bucs passing game didn't miss a beat, passing their first test after dumping Keyshawn Johnson.

Published November 25, 2003

TAMPA - They got him the darn ball. And HIM the darn ball. And HIM, too. And HIM over there.

Keyshawn Johnson was gone, but the Bucs wide receivers were not forgotten. Not on Monday. In fact, far from it.

Life without No. 19 purred along like the game plan was specifically designed to include, perhaps even emphasize, those left behind in the wake of Johnson's abrupt dismissal last week.

"There were a lot of question marks regarding how we would respond (without Johnson)," Bucs receiver Joe Jurevicius said. "I think we answered a lot of those questions."

Coach Jon Gruden certainly had an answer to how the Bucs would respond without Johnson. The Bucs would throw and throw and throw to their wide receivers. Gruden's offensive scheme incorporated throwing the ball to pretty much everyone on the field except Lisa Guerrero.

Hey, you know something's up when Charles Lee, a guy who had caught only 13 more passes than Charles Nelson Reilly and Bruce Lee in his 41/2-year career and none since 2001, caught five balls, including a 53-yard touchdown. That's right, five. Or only eight less than he had caught in his career after a quick audit of his biography, which doesn't have enough information to take up a whole page in the Bucs media guide. (By the way, Keyshawn's fills six pages.)

"I just wanted to play," Lee said. "I just wanted to play with the talent and ability that I have, and I was glad to get the opportunity. We knew this would be a big night for (the receivers). We just wanted to prove ourselves."

While Keyshawn took his time off to fill in on Fox, the Bucs wide receivers looked as if they were on a fox hunt, running wild all over Raymond James Stadium. Quarterback Brad Johnson completed 22 passes. Of the 22, 17 went to wide receivers.

Keenan McCardell caught nine balls for 83 yards. Lee finished with five catches for 91 yards.

Joe Jurevicius, moved into Keyshawn's spot in the starting lineup, hauled in three passes for 43 yards. The passing of the guard - or, in this case, the passing of the receiver - took place on the second play from scrimmage A.K. (After Keyshawn) when Johnson fired a quick 11-yard curl pass to Jurevicius while the crowd cheered wildly.

Even Reggie Barlow, who had two receptions coming into the game, caught a pass.

"As a receiver corps, we did our jobs," Jurevicius said. "All of us."

Not everything, though, went according to Gruden's plan. McCardell and Barlow turned the ball over on fumbles after long receptions. But Gruden must have felt satisfied that in the first game after cutting ties with Johnson and being questioned publicly for his coaching and personnel decisions, the Bucs not only won, but won by featuring their wide receivers.

"We should all feel good about this," Lee said. "But the key now is to not be satisfied. We need to stay focused and keep this going. We have to keep it up. That's the key."

And they'll try to do it without Key.

[Last modified November 25, 2003, 02:06:38]

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