INSIDE THE BUCCANEERS

Tampa's impact players


Keyshawn Johnson celebrates his 9-yard TD catch from Brad Johnson in the second quarter as Joe Jurevicius, left, joins in.

The Associated Press
Published: Monday, January 20, 2003 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Sunday, January 19, 2003 at 11:41 p.m.

Keyshawn Johnson slipped on a Terry Bradshaw jersey, ran behind the Tampa Bay bench and celebrated with the few Buccaneers fans willing to risk wearing team colors at Veterans Stadium.

The brash receiver predicted he would have a major impact on Sunday's NFC championship game if given an opportunity, and Johnson delivered with the go-ahead touchdown in a 27-10 victory over the Philadelphia Eagles.

``The first time we played these guys, we made the mistakes,'' Johnson said, referring to Tampa Bay's 20-10 loss to the Eagles during the regular season. ``We're the ones that didn't make the catches or didn't make the blocks. The holes were there for us. We just didn't take care of our business. We knew going into this game that we were going to take care of business.''

For all the talk about Tampa Bay's top-ranked defense, a rapidly improving offense gave the Bucs the boost they needed to finally get to the Super Bowl.

Brad Johnson threw 259 yards and one touchdown. But more importantly, the Eagles' vaunted pass rush was unable to get to the quarterback.

``When we came up here the last time we were unsure of what we were doing. We kept saying it's a work in progress,'' Brad Johnson said. ``We got better throughout the second half of the season and it showed tonight.''

An inability to score touchdowns in playoff losses the past three years cost former coach Tony Dungy his job. The Bucs' offense has produced six TDs in two playoff games under new coach Jon Gruden.

Johnson & Johnson teamed on a 9-yard touchdown pass in the second quarter, giving the Bucs the lead for good. Earlier, Mike Alstott finished a 96-yard drive - longest in Bucs postseason history - with a 1-yard TD run that proved Tampa Bay's offense didn't have an aversion to the end zone at Veterans Stadium, after all.

The Bucs had gone three straight games in Philadelphia, including playoff losses the past two years, without an offensive TD. In two previous appearances in the NFC title game, they also failed to score a touchdown.

Keyshawn Johnson said too much was made the past weeks of the team's past failures in Philadelphia, where they were outscored 52-12 in playoff losses in 2000 and 2001. The Bucs also lost the 1999 NFC title game 11-6 to the St. Louis Rams.

``We came into the situation last year not knowing if our head coach was going to be here. We came into the situation the year before, thinking we're going to be the 1 or 2 seed and we missed the field goal and all a sudden we're got to go on the road and win three games to get to the Super Bowl,'' Johnson said. ``We had a lot of distractions. This time, we don't come in with anything.''

With the offensive line clearing holes for the running game and giving Brad Johnson enough time to throw, the Bucs consistently moved the ball against a defense that hardly resembled the unit that dominated Tampa Bay during the regular season.

Keyshawn Johnson's TD capped an 80-yard drive that gave the Bucs a 17-10 lead.

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