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By JOANNE KORTH and STEPHEN F. HOLDER, Times Staff Writers
Published January 7, 2008
TAMPA - Sensing the offense could use another receiver in the postseason, the Bucs recently inquired whether Keyshawn Johnson might be willing to give up his seat in ESPN's studio for a uniform and place in Tampa Bay's locker room.
According to Johnson, the Bucs front office contacted his agent, Jerome Stanley, after backup receiver Maurice Stovall broke his arm Dec.23 against the 49ers.
"They talked to my agent several times," Johnson said during a phone interview Sunday.
Johnson spent four seasons with the Bucs and was a part of the Super Bowl XXXVII victory against the Raiders. But after a conflict with coach Jon Gruden, Johnson was deactivated for the final six games of 2003.
The next offseason, he was traded to Dallas.
"Me, I'm a player," said Johnson, who had 10,571 receiving yards in 11 seasons. "I don't have a problem playing for Gruden. People go through things and agree to disagree. Things get blown up to where it looks like a real problem. I just play football."
Johnson played two seasons for the Cowboys, and retired after the Panthers released him before this season.
MILD PRAISE: Cornerback Ronde Barber, who said last week that Giants' Eli Manning "can be had," offered some praise for the embattled quarterback after his first playoff victory.
"Eli is a good player," Barber said, with twin brother and fellow Manning critic Tiki standing nearby. "I told you earlier in the week that he makes a lot of good decisions. You give him good looks, which we did, he can make throws. He only challenged us down the field once and we got the pass interference (on Plaxico Burress)."
Barber was something of a target for the Giants in interviews last week, with Burress quoted saying, "I don't think (Barber) needs to worry about (Manning). He needs to worry about No.17." That, of course, is Burress, who had four receptions for 38 yards.
STILL YOUNG: Despite having a number of veterans in key positions, the Bucs 2007 season was a youth movement, with several first- and second-year players in the starting lineup. Right tackle Jeremy Trueblood, in his second season as a starter, believes the playoff loss will inspire the younger players for next season.
"We'll learn from this," Trueblood said. "I'm a young player. I know there are a lot of guys who don't have many years left and it hurts for them. But I know I have a long way to go and a lot of us do. We're a young team, so we're going to come back and bounce back."
RED ZONE ISSUES: The Bucs continued to suffer defensive breakdowns in the red zone, with New York scoring three touchdowns on its four trips inside the Tampa Bay 20-yard line. During the regular season, opponents scored touchdowns 63 percent of the time when inside the red zone.
"It certainly hurt us," Gruden said. "All I can say is they got us on the same play twice. ... That's an area we have to make dramatic improvement in to continue to play at this level."
BUC BITS: Jeff Garcia was the first quarterback in the Super Bowl era to start a playoff game for three different division winners. He also did so with the 49ers and Eagles. His 39 attempts were the most by a Bucs quarterback in a postseason game, one more than Chris Simms in the 2005 wild-card loss to the Redskins. His 23 completions were second to Simms' 25 in the same game. ... Running back Michael Pittman led the team with five catches for 62 yards, giving him 14 postseason receptions with the Bucs. That ranks fourth in team history.
[Last modified January 6, 2008, 23:38:12]