Another Victim
Roy Cummings, The Tampa Tribune, published 9 December 2002

So much for the revolution. That's what Falcons quarterback Michael Vick was doing prior to Sunday. According to many in the NFL, he was revolutionizing the way quarterbacks play. And the way the game of football is played.

Sunday, Bucs quarterback Brad Johnson put at least a brief halt to the revolution, proving during a lopsided 34-10 Tampa Bay victory that the conventional way of running an offense still may work best. Decidedly outplaying Vick, who seemed to be on his way to earning a reputation as the game's most feared player, Johnson completed 23 of 31 passes for 276 yards and four touchdowns before yielding to Shaun King early in the fourth quarter.

Vick, the subject of so much pregame hype that Bucs coach Jon Gruden said he was ``tired'' of talking about him, never came close to matching Johnson's consistency. Unable to solve the Bucs defense for the second time in as many tries, he completed 12 of 25 passes for 125 yards and a touchdown, was sacked twice, intercepted once, and limited to 15 yards rushing on five carries. ``The new wave is coming,'' Bucs cornerback Ronde Barber said in reference to Vick. ``But you can still win by taking three-step drops, reading defenses and making smart plays. It's the old-fashioned way of doing things, and Brad is probably as good as there is at it right now.''

Johnson has been as good as there is for a while. Since missing a game against Carolina because of sore ribs and a nasty virus, he has thrown 15 touchdown passes and been intercepted once. The four TD passes he threw Sunday gave him 22 and set a Bucs single-season record (Trent Dilfer threw 21 TD passes in 1997 and 1998), while helping him earn his 50th career victory as a starter.

Johnson has never been one to gloat, though, and refused to do so Sunday, saying he will leave it to the media and others to decide whether he scored a victory for the drop- back passer Sunday. ``Our games are different,'' said Johnson, whose team can clinch a playoff berth with a victory Sunday at Detroit. ``I mean, [Vick] has done some things. But for us, this game was all about getting that 10th win.''

Tampa Bay (10-3) stayed atop the NFC South, leading New Orleans (9-4) and Atlanta (8-4-1) by a game or more with three to play. The Bucs grounded the ascending Falcons, who hadn't lost in eight outings (7-0-1). The game also was about quieting the hype about Vick. And in a way it was about quieting the criticism about the play of the Bucs offense, which - save for the play of Johnson - had been considered suspect for weeks. ``I've never been involved in a game where a team that's playing at home with our record has ever been as disrespected as we were,'' Johnson said. ``It's not just the players who feel it. It [doubt about the offense] is out there.''

Sunday's effort should go a long way toward erasing some of that doubt. For while Johnson was throwing for 276 yards, his running backs were gaining 150 yards, including 95 by Mike Alstott, whose 27-yard run set up the Bucs' first touchdown. ``Nobody else has had that many yards [against] their defense lately,'' Gruden said. ``We were proud of the balance we got today.''

The balance wasn't just between the running game and passing game, but among individual receivers and runners as well. In what may have been their best example of running the ball by committee, the Bucs spread 29 carries among five players. And seven players accounted for 23 receptions. No one, though, had more receptions than Joe Jurevicius, who constantly beat Ray Buchanan's single coverage to haul in eight passes, including two for touchdowns, for 100 yards. ``He was the third and fourth option on a lot of those plays,'' Johnson said of Jurevicius. ``He made a lot of big plays today and was really big for us on third down.''

Four of Jurevicius' catches were on third down, when the Bucs converted 50 percent (7- for-14) of their opportunities. The Falcons converted 25 percent of their third-down plays, but one they failed to make proved pivotal. With the game scoreless late in the first quarter, John Howell replaced an injured John Lynch (neck) at strong safety and made an immediate impact by sacking Vick for a 6- yard loss on a third-and-one play at the Bucs' 39. That sack knocked the Falcons out of field goal range and forced them to punt. On the ensuing possession, the Bucs took a 7-0 lead when Jurevicius hauled in a 10-yard pass from Johnson to cap a 10- play, 80-yard drive.

While the Bucs' offense continued to roll, scoring on six of eight possessions beginning with their first score, the Falcons offense continued to falter, gaining 154 yards and recording only a field goal through three quarters. ``There was nothing I could do,'' Vick said. ``They kept me contained.''

They did that, according to Bucs defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin, by sticking to their basic defensive scheme, which attempts to take advantage of the players' speed and discipline. ``Our speed has a lot to do with it, but it's more than just speed,'' said safety Dexter Jackson, who set up the Bucs' second touchdown with a second-quarter interception and 21-yard return to the Falcons 10. ``It's sticking to details and trusting your teammates.''

Clearly, that includes trusting the quarterback, which is something Warren Sapp doesn't mind doing. ``I'll take our throwback guy every time,'' he said.