Dunn, Johnson turn it on again for offense
For a second consecutive week, the Tampa Bay attack takes its cue from two of its top playmakers.
Keyshawn Johnson is a 6-foot-4 lightning rod for the Bucs, capable of lighting up a room the same way he lights up defensive backs every week.
Resplendent in a cream-colored suit, Johnson fielded questions after the Bucs' 27-14 victory against the Falcons with a spark of laughter in front of a podium.
In an adjacent room, Warrick Dunn greeted reporters with a different source of energy. He simply answered questions in front of his locker with the same soft-spoken tone he uses every day.
Clearly, Johnson's voltage-filled personality is no comparison to Dunn's understated demeanor. But for the second week in a row, Dunn and Johnson sparked Tampa Bay. It appears they are evolving into the Bucs' top offensive generators. Johnson had three receptions for 47 yards and two of the Bucs' three touchdowns on Sunday; Dunn rushed 18 times for 77 yards and helped sustain a critical third-quarter drive.
The efforts came a week after Dunn and Johnson combined for 233 yards in a 41-13 victory against Minnesota. In the past two weeks, the duo has produced 52 percent of Tampa Bay's offense.
"I thought they were outstanding, kind of picked up where they left off last week," coach Tony Dungy said. "Keyshawn blocked well, came in and did those things early in the game and made two big catches for points, and that's what it's all about. Warrick wasn't with us yesterday or Friday's practice. He had a family illness in Baton Rouge and he bounced back and played very well."
Dunn said he played with a heavy heart because a family friend in his native Louisiana was gravely ill, but his passion for the game helped him deal with the emotions.
"I thought it was going to be tough, but before last night I said to myself, 'You have to love to play the game,' " Dunn said. "I love to play the game and things just started happening naturally. Once things start happening, you tend to get into the game. Not a minute went by where I didn't think about what was happening at home, but I had to concentrate on the task at hand and that's what my family wants me to do."
Dunn's biggest contribution was in the third quarter. The Falcons had narrowed Tampa Bay's lead to 14-7 and the defense had spent 7 minutes, 55 seconds on the field. Offensive coordinator Les Steckel said it was critical that the team run the ball to consume the clock and give the defense a breather.
"We all agreed we would throw it on third down but not the first two," Steckel said.
Dunn came through by carrying the ball seven times for 39 yards. Included was a 21-yard romp that helped set up Martin Gramatica's 51- yard field goal. Dunn said getting consecutive carries was a positive factor.
"I definitely got into a rhythm," Dunn said. "I was able to pick up some blocks, read the blocks a little better, anticipate some things. Once you get into a rhythm, the game is that much easier. On some of my runs, I was trying to be patient and eventually one was going to pop. One popped and I think that helped us take a little steam out of their guys and definitely give us confidence that we could move the ball."
Johnson did his damage in the second and fourth quarters. His 5- yard touchdown catch put the Bucs up 14-0 and his 29-yard scoring reception put the Bucs up 24-7 and virtually sealed the victory. Johnson also made a key tackle by catching Falcons cornerback Ray Buchanan after he returned an errant Shaun King pass 60 yards. Buchanan may have scored if Johnson hadn't caught him.
He also contributed by staying in to block on some pass plays.
"I'm fine with it," Johnson said. "That's what they pay me for. They ain't paying me $56-million to stand around and do nothing."
In the past two weeks, Johnson's receiving yardage has increased by 45 percent and his touchdown receptions have gone from one to four. Yet Johnson, who typically plays better in the second half of the season, insisted there is nothing different about his approach.
"I'm doing the same thing I did the first half of the season except fumble the football," he said. "Nothing changed, but we're winning now so everybody thinks differently. We're just winning. We've won two games in a row so everybody says I'm playing different, but I'm not playing any different except I haven't fumbled twice."
Ernest Hooper , The St.Petersburg Times 2000