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At 4-4, Bucs remain a work in progress

By RICK STROUD

© St. Petersburg Times, published November 5, 2000


ATLANTA -- Halftimes in the NFL are 20 minutes long. Enough time for a Frisbee dog, a midget football scrimmage or (my favorite) exchanging wedding vows.

Tailgate to follow ceremony, Lot 6. Very casual.

So without further ado, or I do's, let's use the break in the action at the midway point in the season to recap the first half of the Buccaneers' season. At 4-4, Tampa Bay is not even in great position to make the playoffs. But the Bucs are the team you'd least like to face in the post-season.

"I think what we've seen is when we play well, we play good football and we can beat anybody in the league," coach Tony Dungy said. "When we're not on top of our game, we're just right in the middle of the pack or below average.

"Our task is to play consistently week in and week out."

BIGGEST STORY OF THE FIRST HALF: Say what you want about Keyshawn Johnson, the dude can play.

The extracurricular stuff is what you have to live with. Johnson and the rest of the Bucs were a little too full of themselves after a 3-0 start and laid an egg against the Jets. But he is tough (most players would have been knocked out by the blow he took against Detroit) and productive (did six catches for 121 yards vs. Minnesota convince?).

And if you think he's about just getting his numbers, think again.

In a 16-game season, Johnson always will finish with his career average of around 80 catches for 1,000 yards, precisely the pace he's on with Tampa Bay.

"When we were 1-8 in New York, I was having a great year with the same deal," Johnson said. "A great year with the same exact numbers.

"So you mean to tell me nine months later I'm having a terrible year with the same numbers in '99 because we're 4-4?"

ROLLER-COASTER MAN: You can't hide inexperience at the quarterback position in the NFL. Like his team, Shaun King has been streaky. No turnovers in four wins. Six INTs in four losses.

"He's going to have a better game this week," Johnson said. "He tends to play better indoors. I could just tell in Minnesota the way he was throwing the football, the way the ball was rotating and coming nice and crisp off his hand."

MOST IMPROVED: Marcus Jones. In eight games, his 10 sacks already have made him at least $5-million a season as a free agent.

MOST DOMINANT: Warren Sapp is the only defensive lineman worth the entire price of a ticket. Will break Lee Roy Selmon's sack record and join him in the Hall of Fame if he plays 8-10 seasons.

MOST UNDERRATED: Jacquez Green has benefited from Johnson's arrival, but he's a star in this league. Could become first Bucs wideout with 1,000 receiving yards since '89.

WORST TURNOVER: Mike Alstott's fourth quarter fumble against the Jets, a play that changed the direction of the season.

BIGGEST DISAPPOINTMENT: The early struggles by the special teams, including two fumbles at Minnesota. They have improved along with placekicker Martin Gramatica.

COMEBACK PLAYER OF THE MIDYEAR: Running back Warrick Dunn, who is getting it done as a rusher and a receiver in Les Steckel's offense.

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