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Winning put on hold, but talking hasn't been

Sapp reiterates that Johnson needs to buy into the system. Johnson reassures fans.

By RICK STROUD

© St. Petersburg Times, published October 12, 2000


TAMPA -- Turns out the locker room is not big enough for Keyshawn Johnson and Warren Sapp.

They talk on their cell phones to newspapers across the nation, they talk on television, and they talk on the radio.

But nothing receives more attention than when they talk about each other.

And sometimes the sound bites bite back.

That's what happened this week when Sapp made what were interpreted as critical comments about Johnson in a pregame piece that aired on ESPN's Monday Night Countdown.

Sapp continued to talk about Johnson on his radio show Tuesday night when asked about the flashy receiver.

But if you think any of the chatter matters to Johnson, think again.

"Don't buy into it. Don't buy into Warren Sapp is talking about (Johnson)," Johnson said. "They want to drive a stake in between this team. That's what they want. They don't want (coach Tony) Dungy yet. They don't want to see the big dog that got paid. They don't want to see the outspoken, crazy defensive lineman win. But don't buy into it. Don't. That's all I say. I'll say it to the fans and other people who are fans who watch."

According to Sapp, the he-said-Key-said fascination began several weeks ago when he noted on national television that the Bucs reached the NFC Championship Game without Johnson a season ago.

"I think the one thing that everybody is kind of getting to is when I say that this was an established ballclub before he got here," Sapp said. "Now if he's the icing on the cake, he has to buy into what we're doing. Take off the green. Take off the Jets hat. Leave all of that alone. You're a Buccaneer. Put your pewter and red on, and let's go out and perform."

Sapp said Wednesday he still is uncertain whether Johnson has bought into an offensive system that emphasizes the run.

"We were never a 40-pass team in the first place," Sapp said. "We've always been 3 yards and a cloud of dust, and let's play great defense, and we'll take them in the fourth quarter, and we'll beat them. But with him, we've got to be able to put some points on the board and get everything working, and it's going to come. But it's going to take a system that he buys into and believes in what we're doing. And I don't know yet if he's done that because when Tony first got here, we didn't buy into it or believe in it as a defense. We do a bunch of stuff I don't agree with, but I have to do it because I know there's 10 other guys on the field that are doing it and I'm one of the soldiers in this army."

Johnson, who has caught 26 passes for 294 yards and one touchdown in six games, was critical Wednesday of his performance in the past few games, in which he fumbled to set up touchdowns for the Redskins and Vikings.

But he said he has not lost confidence.

"We've got 10 games to go; don't buy into it," Johnson said. "If people weren't doubling me or rolling (coverage) to me, taking me out ... then I would say I'm a poor football player."

As for his fumble on the first play at Minnesota, Johnson credits Vikings cornerback Robert Tate.

"I'll take full responsibility for it," Johnson said. "It was a good play on his part. It was a good play by him; it was a bad play by me. He had good timing and a good reaction at the same time."

Though Johnson has been fond of saying big-time players make big-time plays in big games, he does not believe there was any way he could have hung on to Shaun King's pass at Minnesota's 4-yard line with 21 seconds left.

"It was the same thing at the end of the quarter on the post-corner that put us on the 4-yard line," Johnson said. "That guy (Orlando Thomas) made a hell of a defensive play. If he stumbles or he's one step too late, then we've got the ball on the 4-yard line. But he made a good play. You have to bow down to him. Don't buy into that "He should've made that catch.' Don't buy into it. That's all I say.

"If teammates start to buy into it, then it becomes a problem."

However, Sapp has not sounded convinced that Tampa Bay's $56-million receiver always has walked the walk this season.

"That's how you buy into the system, and when the opportunity presents itself for you to make a play, you have to make it," Sapp said.

If anything, Johnson has been more critical of his performance than his teammates have been.

"I've had no patience," Johnson said. "Some routes are not as crisp as they should be. I think it's because I'm not used to certain things. It's like, "Okay, they're getting ready to roll (coverage) to me,' and my head goes down. Or it's, "Oh, well, I know what they're going to do in this coverage.' So I'm in a funk.

"I've blocked okay. I'm just getting comfortable with the system, with the offense, with the organization, with everything. What I can't do is be what I'm not. I've got to be who I am before I came here. Period. I can't fall into that "You've got to be this way because this is the way everybody else is.' I can't fall into that. I've got to be who I am. I can't worry about whether people like my attitude or not.

"I think it's a great team. I think we've got a great group of guys and eventually we'll turn it around. It's okay. You know, they were 3-4 before. They've lost here before. I understand high expectations. We're going to be all right; it's just a matter of time. It's like dealing blackjack. You can keep dealing those bad hands, and eventually you're going to hit. ... A king and an ace is going to show up, and it's going to be 21."

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