Despite a bruised thigh, Keyshawn stays in the game, blocking for receivers and making 7 catches for 71 yards.
By ROGER MILLS
© St. Petersburg Times,
published September 10, 2001
IRVING, Texas -- Ever try walking with a deep thigh bruise? So what about running, stopping and turning? What about blocking? What about doing it over and over?
That's what Bucs receiver Keyshawn Johnson was asked to do Sunday. True, he made big catches and finished with seven receptions for 71 yards, but his contribution to the Bucs' 10-6 win over the Cowboys goes beyond the statistics.
Somewhere, etched in the minds of his teammates and the memories of the Cowboys, will be the image of a hobbled millionaire receiver doing whatever he could to help his team win. And enduring considerable pain along the way.
"We could have put Karl (Williams) in but Key wasn't having any of it," receiver coach Charlie Williams said. "The bottom line is everyone knows how important a win is on the road, or at home for that matter. So you have to suck it up. That's how important it was. That's why he's a leader."
On the fifth possession of the game, facing third and 6, Johnson flew through the middle of the Cowboys defense and grabbed a bullet from Brad Johnson 19 yards downfield. Keyshawn immediately collided with Cowboys safety George Teague, leaving him with a deep bruise of the right thigh.
He hobbled off the field and missed the next few possessions while team trainers worked on the leg.
"He came over there to me and about had tears in his eyes," defensive tackle Warren Sapp said. "I know what that quads bruise is like. He had tears coming out of his eyes. I looked at him and said, 'Daddy, you've got to go.' He looked up at me and he had that all seedy look. I looked at him and said, 'What?' He said, 'I'm going.' And he made plays. That's what we got him for. He wants the ball in his hands. Let's give it too him."
And the Bucs did. Clearly unable to run with his customary smooth stride, Johnson made more catches and found other ways to help his team's struggling offense.
"My presence, just being on the field, gives (the Cowboys) some problems and makes them think about me," Johnson said. "As long as I catch the ball when they throw it to me, that was all I cared about. I couldn't run. I don't know if I will be able to run for a couple days.
"I recognized the importance of staying on the football field, whether or not I could catch a pass. Just the mere presence of me standing there makes the defensive coordinator do some things. I'll be sore tomorrow. It hurts like a son of a (gun). But I had to play anyway because players react to men; they watch me."
When not catching passes (he had receptions of 16 and 12 yards to keep drives alive) Johnson moved up and down the line of scrimmage, blocking linebackers and defensive linemen for running backs Warrick Dunn and Mike Alstott.
"Keyshawn helps me out most in his toughness, not so much as a receiver but going inside, making blocks and stuff like that, just being a football player," said receiver Jacquez Green, who more than picked up the slack for Johnson, finishing with eight catches for 75 yards. "You can easily get someone out there running the routes and catching the football, but the question is how tough he is. The effort he showed in his blocking kind of picked me up to be honest."
To some extent, the Bucs had no choice but to play Johnson. Had the Bucs been forced to use three-receiver sets down the stretch, they did not want to bring in Johnson cold from the sideline.
"There's a fine line between being out there and hurting your team and being out there and getting the job done," coach Tony Dungy said. "I know Keyshawn felt once he got out of the game, he would not be able to go back in. So he wanted to stay in there.
"We were running the ball and he made some critical blocks. Of course, he made some big catches. But I think it showed the type of attitude that these guys came down here with. We were going to get a win and it was going to be tough."