TAMPA, Fla. -- Tampa Bay quarterback Brad Johnson had suffered through three weeks of rumors about his back injury. He heard he would not be healthy for the playoffs, that he had a broken vertebra, that maybe his career was jeopardized.
While making a rare scramble, Johnson felt the fingers of 49er Derek Smith scrape across his face while Smith was making the tackle.
There was no malice in the hit, but Smith's fingernails were sharp.
"I knew I was bleeding pretty good and I knew I'd need stitches," Johnson, 34, said after the game. "But I wasn't going to miss anything and this won't hurt me next week, I guarantee that."
Johnson left the field on a cart. He was holding a bloody towel over his eye with one hand and waving to the crowd with the other.
After getting stitches, Johnson was back in the game.
In his four previous playoff games, Johnson was 1-3 with two touchdown passes and nine interceptions.
But he was steady, patient and mostly mistake-free against the 49ers.
"Brad played a great game," Tampa Bay Coach Jon Gruden said. "I'm proud of him. He came back great today and worked hard to get here."
"Still wear it proudly," Kelly said. "Pete Carroll is doing great things. That defense was awesome, wasn't it?"
Kelly, 27, should know about awesome defenses.
He is a cornerback for the Buccaneers, a fifth-year player who tied for the NFL lead in interceptions this year (eight, with Oakland's Rod Woodson) for the NFL's best defense.
He also is an USC alum, a four-year starter for the Trojans and a man very excited by USC's football resurgence.
"I was at the Orange Bowl," Kelly said, "and it was a great experience. Almost as great as today."
After signing a six-year contract with Tampa Bay last March, Kelly had his best season, with a career-high 78 tackles.
"All credit to our defense," Kelly said. "It's about our unit, not me."
There were no interceptions for Kelly on Sunday. He was just happy to be part of the dominating defense.
"Maybe it's just a USC kind of year," Kelly said. "First the Trojans, now this."
Steve Mariucci and team owner John York will begin talks about the coach's future with the 49ers on Tuesday.
Mariucci's sixth season with the 49ers ended Sunday with the loss. He is under contract to San Francisco through next season, but his job is widely thought to be in jeopardy despite four winning seasons and four trips to the playoffs.Though he didn't guarantee Mariucci's return, York was upbeat about his coach moments after Sunday's game.
"I think we can get it worked out," York said. "To sit there and throw rocks at the coach after you won the [NFC] West Division ... is foolish."
Associated Press contributed to this report.
FIRST LOOK: NFC CHAMPIONSHIP:
TAMPA BAY AT PHILADELPHIA
Sunday, noon, Channel 11
* Regular-season records: Tampa Bay 12-4; Philadelphia 12-4.
* How they got here: Tampa Bay d. San Francisco, 31-6, in divisional playoffs; Philadelphia d. Atlanta, 20-6, in divisional playoffs.
* Head to head (2002): Philadelphia d. Tampa Bay, 20-10, in Week 7 at Philadelphia.
* All-time series: Philadelphia leads, 7-4.
* Record vs. common opponents (2002): Philadelphia 4-0; Tampa Bay 5-0.
* NFL rank, rushing offense: Philadelphia 7th; Tampa Bay 27th.
* NFL rank, passing offense: Philadelphia 19th, Tampa Bay 15th.
* NFL rank, total offense: Philadelphia 10th, Tampa Bay 24th.
* NFL rank, rushing defense: Philadelphia 9th, Tampa Bay 5th.
* NFL rank, passing defense: Philadelphia 7th, Tampa Bay 1st.
* NFL rank, total defense: Philadelphia 4th, Tampa Bay 1st.