- The Washington Times - Monday, October 13, 2003

Brad Johnson only looked like he had a rough day.

There was a cut on the bridge of his nose. The nose was not its usual color, either, thanks to an inadvertent bump from Washington Redskins defensive end Bruce Smith that forced the back of Johnson’s helmet down hard.

“It really wasn’t a bad hit. … It doesn’t hurt, it just looks worse than it really is,” Johnson said.

That nick was about the only thing that went wrong for Johnson in his homecoming at FedEx Field yesterday. Johnson completed 22 of 30 passes for 268 yards and four touchdowns — 14 of 18 for 205 yards and three touchdowns in the second half — to lead the Bucs past his former team 35-13.

This was the same Brad Johnson whose arm strength was constantly questioned during his time in Washington but still managed to go 18-11, including a trip to the playoffs. And, yes, this was the same Brad Johnson who owner Dan Snyder declined to re-sign after the 2000 season, instead anointing Jeff George the starter.

And, yet, this isn’t quite the same Brad Johnson. This version wears a Super Bowl ring, one he earned by leading the Bucs to a championship last season.

“Brad’s always good,” Bucs receiver Keyshawn Johnson said. “He’s one of those guys that’s been as solid as ever since he’s been here. I don’t see why anyone would ever question his ability to perform as a quarterback.”

Yesterday, the Bucs needed Johnson to perform at the peak of his ability. They were coming off a disastrous Monday night game in which they blew a 21-point lead over the Indianapolis Colts with four minutes to play and lost 38-35 in overtime.

“I was really proud of Brad Johnson, I thought he was stellar today in his play,” Bucs coach Jon Gruden said of his quarterback, who had a staggering 140.0 passer rating for the game. “We lost [tight end] Ken Dilger, we lost [wide receiver] Karl Williams and we’re losing players, for [Johnson] to stand in there and show the grit and lead our football team from an offensive standpoint, was impressive.”

The sturdy 6-foot-5 Johnson engineered three second-half touchdown drives of more than 70 yards that consumed nearly 14 minutes. He was the master of the short and intermediate passing game. Nothing down the field, just high-percentage passing on the outside and over the middle.

Said Redskins linebacker LaVar Arrington, “I thought we could get enough pressure on Brad to get him rattled, but he hung in there and made big plays.”

With the calm Johnson at the helm, the Buccaneers efficiently converted six of 10 third downs on the Redskins’ bewildered defense. It was a Johnson-to-Johnson bomb that sent even the most diehard Redskins fans to the exits with 8:56 left.

After fooling the Redskins with play-action passes all afternoon, Johnson unleashed the knockout blow when he connected with Keyshawn Johnson on a 39-yard pass that gave Tampa Bay an insurmountable 28-13 lead.

“Brad’s a consummate pro and makes the plays when people don’t expect him to make plays,” said Bucs wide receiver Keenan McCardell, who caught five passes for 77 yards. “Brad realized it was a big win for us. We needed this, we needed this in the worst way.”

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