- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 8, 2001

TAMPA, Fla. — A month shy of his 33rd birthday, Brad Johnson is starting over again. And he couldn't be happier, both to be in Tampa and to be out of Washington.

"Last year was total chaos within the whole organization, and we just didn't play well," Johnson said. "As bad as it was, I was 7-4 as a starter for an 8-8 team and got labeled… . I didn't get enough credit for winning seven games."

Without naming names, Johnson implied Dan Snyder is the reason he's no longer a Redskin. Snyder, the co-owner in-waiting in February 1999, hadn't wanted to acquire Johnson from Minnesota in the first place. That Johnson took the Redskins to the playoffs that fall for the first time in seven years and made the Pro Bowl apparently didn't have much of an effect on the relationship between the quarterback and the owner.

"I enjoyed Washington," Johnson said. "Everyone I was concerned with treated me great: [coach] Norv [Turner], the coaching staff, the players. But the way things were handled were wrong. Everyone can read between the lines. But that's over, and you move on."

And he's moved to a Buccaneers team that has long had a ferocious defense but hasn't had a 30-something starting quarterback since the Reagan Administration.

"It's easy to point to the quarterback, but this is the first time they've had a veteran," Johnson said. "I think I've come in at a good time. They set a franchise record for points scored [388] last year. But they had six games [plus the first-round playoff loss at Philadelphia] with 17 points or less. Hopefully, I'll bring a consistency level. Maybe we won't score as many points, but we'll play at a higher level every week."

Johnson does offer some impressive credentials. His 61.8 completion percentage is third all-time behind only San Francisco superstars Steve Young and Joe Montana. Among active quarterbacks with a least 28 starts, only Doug Flutie, Brett Favre and Steve McNair have higher winning percentages than Johnson's .640. And his career 84.7 rating is seventh all-time. After throwing just 73 passes in his first four seasons in Minnesota, Johnson guided the Vikings to the 1996 playoffs and had them headed back the next two years before injuries intervened. Then came his big 1999 season in Washington and last year's circus.

There was no question Johnson was going to be an ex-Redskin, but the money was on him reuniting with Baltimore coach Brian Billick, his Vikings offensive coordinator.

"I pretty much assumed Brad was going to Baltimore," said Bucs coach Tony Dungy, the Vikings' defensive coordinator during Johnson's first four years in Minnesota. "He said, 'Don't count yourselves out. There are some things I like about Tampa.' "

Like Dungy, ex-Vikings Pro Bowl blockers Randall McDaniel and Jeff Christy and new offensive coordinator Clyde Christensen, who coached Johnson in the 1999 Pro Bowl. And Johnson said "the structure" of Tampa Bay's five-year, $28 million contract which will put $12.75 million in his pocket the first two years was critical.

"Brad's intangibles just cannot be overrated," Bucs general manager Rich McKay said. "We will take full advantage of his maturity and his leadership. We tried to develop a quarterback from the ground up in Trent Dilfer [the sixth pick in the 1994 draft who started before being replaced by rookie Shaun King in 1999], and that's a very hard thing to do. We like Shaun. He's going to be a good player. But we're trying to win a championship."

But Johnson hasn't even played in a conference title game, let alone clutched the Lombardi Trophy as Dilfer did with the Ravens in January. And even though Johnson is in his 10th season, he has started only 50 games. That's just 29 more than third-year man King. Then again, the Bucs expect Pro Bowl regulars Warren Sapp, Derrick Brooks, John Lynch and the rest of the defense to win the games. They just don't want Johnson to lose them.

"We ask the quarterback to manage the game, make a play or two, not be required to make 15 plays," McKay said. "We're not asking Brad to throw 40 to 45 times a game. If you're going to throw 25 to 30 times and be a ball-control team, you want a high-percentage passer with leadership ability. Brad fits what we're asking him to do."

Bucs receiver Keyshawn Johnson said the new quarterback will make a difference.

"Brad has incredible accuracy," Keyshawn Johnson said. "He knows where to put the ball. Last year, the quarterback and the offensive coordinator [then Les Steckel] weren't as strong as people may have thought. But Brad's not sitting around saying, 'All the pressure's on me. If I don't do it, everybody's going to boo me.' He just wants to help us achieve our goal and that's to get to the Super Bowl."

Those championship hopes were almost derailed the morning of July 24 in Tallahassee when Brad Johnson slipped on his pool deck while trying to move furniture in the rain.

"I slipped on a couple of steps and a table fell on me and cut me," Johnson said. "My wife [Nikki] is a physical therapist so for her to be nervous was kind of shocking. She called the ambulance. I was able to walk to the bathroom, and I laid in the tub and we cleaned it up. When the paramedics asked if I could bend my knee and I could, I knew I would be OK. I was lucky. If I had cut the tendon, the season was over."

Instead, the deep laceration on his left knee was stitched up, and Johnson only missed 10 practices before returning to the field on Monday.

"It was kind of a blessing in disguise," said Johnson, who took plenty of ribbing from his teammates while he was out. "I already felt good with the system, and it probably saved my arm 1,500 throws. I feel very sharp. I don't think it slowed me down at all."

Which is great news for the Bucs, who have made the playoffs three of the past four years but who also play in the NFC Central, arguably the NFL's toughest division.

"I just felt this was a good place for me," Johnson said. "They've been close [losing the 1999 NFC title game to St. Louis 11-6], but they haven't won it yet. It's hard to do, but if we can, you put your stamp on things. That could be very special."

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