O-Line Gets Some Respect
Two quarterbacks have been hurt this season. Unacceptable. The running game has been nearly non-existent. Unacceptable. Coach Jon Gruden described their performance last week as embarrassing. The offensive line, to put it kindly, has struggled this season. On Sunday, they put an end to the madness. ``We said it had to stop,'' said left guard Todd Washington, who started in place of the injured Kerry Jenkins. ``There were a lot of factors we talked about. Communication, there was a lack of it. Details, there was a lack of that. But Sunday everyone was on the same page. We got together and said, 'This has got to stop.' It didn't matter who we played, it was an opportunity to go out there and prove ourselves.''
For only the second time this season, the Bucs did not give up a sack. Back from a two-week layoff to rest a fractured rib, quarterback Brad Johnson had plenty of time to throw and was rarely pressured by the Vikings. ``The offensive line played tremendously today, especially with what I was going through with the rib thing,'' said Johnson, who completed 24 of 31 passes for 313 yards and a career-high five touchdowns. ``I really didn't get hit all day. Those guys dominated up front and helped us play the way that we did.''
So where has the domination been all season? For one thing, with all due respect to the offensive line's performance, they weren't facing the league's sack leaders, Carolina, like last week. Minnesota's defense entered the game ranked 28th. ``We didn't really do anything special,'' right tackle Kenyatta Walker said. ``We beat a team we were supposed to beat.''
Washington agreed the turnaround was merely a matter of matching up well with their opponent. ``This game may be complicated if you make it complicated, but it's simple X's and O's,'' Washington said. ``You know where you've got to be, know what to expect. You watch film so you know where they're going to line up and know what they're going to do and you react accordingly.''
Following a week off, the Bucs again face Carolina, which sacked backup quarterback Rob Johnson six times. The next test for the offensive line will be whether it can use Sunday's performance as motivation. ``I know the offensive line was tired of hearing the criticism,'' said running back Aaron Stecker, who had a 59-yard run on his lone carry. ``They took it upon themselves to show they can get the job done. And they did a heck of a job of blocking up front. I think it's real good for them and should give them some confidence. The whole offense was tired of hearing it because we know we've got players who can get the job done. It was just a matter of doing it, and today they did it.''