Efficient Johnson Manages Game Well
Brad Johnson, who prides himself on being a steady hand amid the furor at One Buc Place, continued his jittery journey Monday night against the Giants. A national TV audience witnessed what Bucs fans have seen firsthand from Johnson in the past six weeks: the good, the very good and just enough ugly to make things squeamish in a 19-13 victory. For three quarters, Johnson appeared poised and efficient, completing 17 of 24 passes for 221 yards and his 20th touchdown of the season. The Bucs led 17-6 and their Pro Bowl quarterback had excelled despite the banishment of wide receiver Keyshawn Johnson.

But then Brad Johnson got greedy and the Giants cashed in when rookie cornerback Frank Walker intercepted a pass intended for Joe Jurevicius and raced 56 yards down the right sideline with 12:42 remaining. Johnson had no room to step up in the pocket and deliver the ball with authority as Walker capitalized on a fluttering, ill-advised pass.

The mistake continued a disturbing pattern for Johnson, whose sharp decisions under pressure helped Tampa Bay to a Super Bowl title last season. Johnson posted a touchdown-interception rate of 12-3 and was sacked only once over the first five games this season. In the next five games, however, Johnson threw seven scoring passes and was picked off eight times while suffering 14 sacks.

His final numbers, 22-for-32 for 269 yards, would have been even more impressive had replay not overruled a 35-yard completion to running back Michael Pittman, who was judged out of bounds after snaring a perfectly thrown ball. ``Our backs were up against the wall, especially with our record. We had a couple guys step up ... Charles Lee especially, filling in for Key,'' Johnson said. ``I thought Brad played really well,'' Jon Gruden said. ``We had some dropped balls and he forced one ball, but overall, he managed the game. If he gets that pass to Pittman, he has a really big-time night.''

Johnson exhibited his toughness once again on a night brimming with physical play. Early in the second quarter, he shook off a blatant face mask by Giants defensive tackle Keith Hamilton, who was assessed a 15-yard penalty. New York defensive end Frank Ferrara was whistled for roughing the passer on the drive after Walker's interception. ``Brad was effective and we won the game,'' Bucs center John Wade said. ``He's always going to be out there fighting. It seemed to me that every time I looked up, he was completing a pass. I don't think there's anyone any tougher. You know Brad Johnson is always going to be out there for you. If he's not in the game, there's something seriously wrong.''

Johnson's 53-yard touchdown pass to Lee extended his team record to 11 consecutive games with a scoring pass and marked his fourth touchdown pass of more than 50 yards this season. With four consecutive years of at least 20 touchdown passes, Johnson has proven an astute free-agent pickup.