By RICK STROUD
© St. Petersburg Times, published September 10, 2000
TAMPA -- There isn't a bigger target than receiver Keyshawn Johnson. Once the game is over, that is.
"The first thing I was asked was how did they shut me down?" Johnson said. "Shut me down? How many passes did they throw to me? I think we threw about the fewest in the league last week."
Close. Only one other team attempted fewer -- the Vikings with rookie quarterback Daunte Culpepper. Culpepper, however, rushed 13 times last week against Chicago, so his 23 passing attempts are misleading.
Johnson caught just four passes against New England. But all resulted in first downs, including a 20-yarder on third and 19. Two others aimed his way were incomplete, one that was tipped.
They all were big plays by a big playmaker and accounted for a third of the completions by quarterback Shaun King.
New York media and some fans appear quick to suggest that Johnson will become disenchanted with the Bucs offense if more passes aren't thrown his way.
But they seem to forget that in nine out of 16 games last season, Johnson caught five passes or fewer. He still finished with 89 receptions for 1,170 yards and eight touchdowns.
Last week, the Bucs attempted just two passes in the fourth quarter while trying to protect an 11-point lead.
Johnson also is puzzled by the numbers being circulated about his matchup with Bears cornerback Thomas Smith. According to the Bears, the two squared off seven times in four years, with Johnson playing for the Jets and Smith for the Bills.
In those seven games, the spin goes, Smith held Johnson to one touchdown catch and an average of 4.6 receptions and 67.6 yards. Smith missed the second meeting in '98 because of injury.
So why does Johnson's game-by-game reflect that he scored three touchdowns in those seven games that Smith participated in? "I don't know. Maybe only one was against him," Johnson said.
NEW APPRECIATION: Defensive tackle Brad Culpepper probably never got the credit he deserved playing in Tampa Bay, partly because he lined up next to All-Pro defensive tackle Warren Sapp.
It was hard to know how many sacks Culpepper fell into because Sapp was tying up a double team.
Even Culpepper bought a little into the hype, pointing out that he led the team in sacks twice during his career in Tampa Bay, including '94 when he had four. From 1995-98, Sapp had 291/2 sacks to Culpepper's 23.
But now that Culpepper is playing next to mortal defensive linemen Jim Flanigan and Mike Wells, he seems more willing to give Sapp his due.
"Last week, Warren obviously didn't need too much help from me," Culpepper said. "He had a great game.
"He's as good as he thinks he is. Especially when you watch him on film. It's kind of strange. When you know someone so well and you see them all the time, you don't think how great they are. I know Sapp so well, we'll go out, have a beer, you see him at practice. Sometimes he's tired. Sometimes he doesn't do as well. But watching him on film last week, man, he's dominant. If he keeps it up, he'll be in the Hall of Fame."
SAFETY FIRST: Safety John Lynch has received plenty of accolades in his career -- two-time Pro Bowl player, drafted in the second round by major-league baseball and the NFL.
But perhaps nothing meant more to him than being named Bucs defensive captain by his peers, replacing linebacker Hardy Nickerson.
"I'll tell you, one of the prouder moments of my career was earlier this year was when our defense nominated me the captain," he said. "It was a special thing."