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Battered Brad

Bucs' Johnson not expected back for Sunday night's game

Posted: Thursday December 26, 2002 7:54 PM

TAMPA, Fla. (AP) -- Tampa Bay quarterback Brad Johnson said Thursday his sore back is improving, but it's unlikely he'll play Sunday night when the Buccaneers close the regular season against the Chicago Bears.

Johnson missed last Monday night's 17-7 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers because of a severe lower back bruise suffered during the fourth quarter of the Bucs' three-point victory over the Detroit Lions two weeks ago.

If he is unable to play against the Bears, Rob Johnson will make his second start of the season.

"The injury happened right before the game-winning field goal in Detroit. I scrambled up in the pocket and I was actually trying to go down where I wouldn't get hit and keep the clock going and make them burn a timeout," Johnson said, speaking publicly about the injury for the first time. "One of the players landed on me with a knee and I knew immediately that I was hurt right then."

Johnson, who finished the Detroit game, has been receiving daily treatment and done some light jogging and throwing this week. He took snaps in practice Wednesday and Thursday with the scout team.

"I am able to ride the bike. I am able to do Stairmaster. I am able to toss the ball, so I am getting better," Johnson said.

"Last week was a rough, rough week for me. These last three or four days I have really improved drastically. ... I could not have played on Monday night, no way. I am getting better and you never know what could happen. But I am getting better, and we will make those judgments daily."

Head coach Jon Gruden said tests have not revealed any structural damage to the 34-year-old quarterback's back. Johnson is hopeful he will return to the lineup in time for the playoffs.

As NFC South champions, the Bucs (11-4) have clinched a playoff berth and are assured of playing at least one home game in the playoffs. They will earn a first-round bye if they beat the Bears and the Green Bay Packers lose to the New York Jets on Sunday.

"At some point I will be back, there is no doubt about that," Johnson said. "It just wasn't last Monday night, and it will probably not be this Sunday night against Chicago. Hopefully we will get a bye."

Gruden would not speculate whether Johnson will be available for the playoffs.

"I can't be a forecaster in terms of when an injury will heal. I will say this: He's still restricted from a mobility standpoint," the head coach said.

"I'll always be an optimistic guy. But at the same time, I've got to be realistic and what we see is very slow improvement. With that said, Rob Johnson has the keys to the offense right now. We need to play better and play smarter and find a way to win with a new quarterback."

Meanwhile, defensive tackle Warren Sapp did not practice for the second straight day and is questionable for Sunday night with a left knee sprain. "But knowing Warren, he'll find a way to play," Gruden said.


 
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