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Bucs offense finally clicks

After blowing some early opportunities, Brad Johnson throws two TDs in a 20-3 win over the Patriots.

photo
[Times photo: James Borchuck]
Aaron Stecker leaps into his teammates' arms after giving the Bucs the lead with a 21-yard TD catch in the second quarter.
By RICK STROUD

© St. Petersburg Times,
published August 26, 2001


TAMPA -- It could've made a pretty good slogan for the Bucs' beleaguered offense or the suits on Madison Avenue had it only been true.

Johnson & Johnson means no more tears.

But until Saturday night, quarterback Brad Johnson and receiver Keyshawn Johnson had not combined for a single pass completion in the preseason.

The Bucs finally cracked that barrier, and more importantly the end zone, against the New England Patriots.

Brad Johnson threw touchdowns to Aaron Stecker and Jacquez Green and tailback Warrick Dunn exploded for 115 yards on 12 carries to lead the Bucs to a 20-3 preseason victory over the Pats at Raymond James Stadium.

The second touchdown capped a brilliant 66-yard, 10-play drive in 5:54 to start the third quarter. The key play was Keyshawn Johnson's 14-yard reception on third and 6. Two plays later, Green beat defensive back Otis Smith for a 17-yard score.

"We're happier today than last week or week before," Bucs coach Tony Dungy said. "I don't think we're totally happy and we still have some things we have to work on. You never want to not come out with points in the red zone. But the more they play together, the better they'll be. I think we're progressing fine and we'll be on schedule for opening day."

Until the third-quarter drive, the offense was going to be remembered for Dunn's runs of 35 and 56 yards and its failure to capitalize on them. In fact, the first touchdown was set up by a 27-yard punt return by Arkansas State rookie Robert Kilow to the New England 24.

Given the play of the Bucs defense, the Patriots might have considered this running up the score.

Led by the lethal inside-outside pass rush of Warren Sapp and Simeon Rice, the Bucs might have kept New England out of the end zone on an Arena League field.

photo
[Times photo: Toni L. Sandys]
Warren Sapp was in this mode much of the night, putting up a sack and four tackles.
Tampa Bay (1-2) led New England (2-1) in total yards 362-83 and in first downs 15-4. And there was no falloff with the starters out. The Patriots had a net of zero yards in the second half.

"Our defense played well," Dungy said. "Any time you hold a team under 100 yards, it's hard to do."

Despite terrific field position all night, New England managed only a 40-yard field goal by Adam Vinatieri with 6 seconds left in the first half.

In eight first-half possessions, New England punted seven times and went three-and-out five times, making one first down in each of the other two series.

Sapp finished with a sack, four tackles and two passes defensed; Rice had a sack, two tackles and a pass defensed. Second-year pro Chartric Darby added two second-half sacks.

But the storyline of the night was the offense, which had struggled until Saturday behind Brad Johnson.

"It was a nice feeling to hear the cannons go off," Brad Johnson said. "It's something I was looking forward to. I've been on the other end of those cannons. But we had some drives and gave us chance to score some points tonight."

Playing behind an offensive line with three first-year starters (tackle Kenyatta Walker, guard Cosey Coleman and center Todd Washington) Dunn sliced up New England's 3-4 defense.

His first carry was a 35-yarder. And only a tackle by Leonard Myers prevented Dunn from scoring on his fifth carry, which nonetheless put him at the century mark.

"My legs are a little dead," Dunn said. "They're still "camp' legs, but those runs are going to come and hopefully my job is to finish them."

Johnson finished 14-of-22 for 117 yards with an interception. That included five completions for 37 yards to Keyshawn Johnson. Shaun King took over midway through the third quarter and continued to look sharp by going 5-of-7 for 61 yards, including a 19-yard touchdown to Karl Williams.

Even bullyragged quarterback Ryan Leaf, who entered in the fourth quarter, played well until victimized by consecutive drops in the red zone by running back Pepe Pearson and receiver Khori Ivy.

"He made five really good throws," Dungy said of Leaf, who was 3-of-5 for 49 yards. "He had a couple of drops and everything else was on target."

But Brad Johnson probably felt best after directing the Bucs to the end zone for the first time all preseason with 7:49 remaining in the first half. Stecker beat linebacker Tedy Bruschi down the right sideline and hauled in a 21-yard pass, tightroping the sideline.

It was redemption of sorts for Johnson, who blew a scoring chance after Dunn's 56-yard run when he was intercepted by defensive lineman Richard Seymour as he passed to tight end Todd Yoder.

"Actually on that play, we have three different receivers that could get open," Johnson said. "They took away the primary, the second guy and the guy who intercepted is the defensive tackle. I was checking the linebacker out and I was thinking it was an easy TD. He made a tremendous play on the ball, but you have to fault him for not rushing. It'll be interesting to see what the coaches say when they see the film."

At least the film of Saturday's game will include an advertisement of things to come for Johnson & Johnson, even if it isn't a cure-all.

"You'd like to score more than 20 points and be aggressive as you possibly can," Brad Johnson said. "Sometimes you score 20 points and win. It's not about numbers or stats here, it's about winning games and having fun."

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