Bucs' Johnson far outshines Vick in sweep of FalconsPosted: Sunday December 08, 2002 10:01 PM
By Don Banks, Sports Illustrated
TAMPA, Fla. -- Everybody was looking for signs of vindication, but Brad Johnson would acknowledge only victory.
"I'm used to that. I've been used to that for a while now," said Johnson -- the veteran Tampa Bay quarterback -- of life in Michael Vick's shadow last week. "I look at it like the win takes care of everything. The win was the biggest thing."
Johnson, the quarterback no one was talking about last week, was the guy everybody wanted to talk to late Sunday afternoon after he and his Bucs trounced Atlanta and Vick 34-10 in the game that could decide the NFC South. Johnson's four touchdowns, 276 yards passing and sterling 140.6 quarterback rating thrust him center stage, where Vick had resided for most of the past two months.
"I know it might take playing like I did [Sunday] in a big game, in a national game like this, to get exposure," said Johnson. "Especially with what the Falcons have been doing lately. That's what it may take for people to see you.
"But I know where I'm at in my career. The only way I'm going to get what I want at the end of this thing is to win the whole thing. That's the only way you get what you want as a quarterback. That's the only way you can be seen accurately. Putting up numbers is only so good unless you win a Super Bowl."
That's probably so. But this season, Johnson is hanging up numbers and playing some of the best football of his 11-year NFL career. In the span of the past three weeks, Johnson has won head-to-head duels with Green Bay's Brett Favre and Vick -- the NFC's two most acclaimed quarterbacks and two of the league's leading MVP candidates. In his past five games -- four of which have been Buc wins -- Johnson has thrown 15 touchdowns and just one interception.
"I don't know what his touchdown-to-interception ratio is, but it's as good as anybody I've been around," said Bucs head coach Jon Gruden of Johnson's team-record 22 touchdown passes against six interceptions. "He's doing a great job. He's the strength right now of our offense."
Johnson's final scoring pass Sunday -- 27 yards to wide receiver Keenan McCardell -- broke Trent Dilfer's Bucs record of 21 touchdown passes in both 1997 and 1998. McCardell and fellow wide receiver Joe Jurevicius both hauled in two touchdowns, with Jurevicius catching a game-high eight passes for 100 yards and McCardell totaling four catches for 49 yards.
Johnson was at his best when Sunday's game was still reasonably competitive. Johnson completed 16 of his first 19 attempts for 158 yards, three touchdowns and a 140.9 rating in the opening two quarters.
"He's good," Falcons inside linebacker Keith Brooking said of Johnson. "They all were good. The receivers made great catches when we were in good positions. We missed tackles and we didn't make plays in the passing game. We made them all look like Pro Bowlers [on Sunday]. But you've got to give them credit. They deserve all the hype they get because they kicked our butts for sure."
Of course, all the hype had gone Vick's way during the course of Atlanta's eight-game unbeaten streak. None of it had found its way to Johnson, whose career record is now 50-28 (.641), second only to Favre's among active quarterbacks with at least 50 career starts.
"Things change fast in this game," Johnson said. "That's why you never stop learning. I could get beat up next week and Michael could have another big game. That's why you should always have respect for the game and respect for the team you're playing. But I know there's a lot of different ways to get the job done as a quarterback. That's what I always try to remember."