Buccaneers Activate Playoff Hopes

From Associated Press

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers knew they were capable of winning without Keyshawn Johnson. Now they've got to prove they can keep doing it.

Playing with a sense of urgency lacking for much of the season, the defending Super Bowl champions revived their playoff hopes Monday night with a 19-13 victory over the New York Giants.

Brad Johnson threw for 269 yards and one touchdown, helping the Buccaneers (5-6) stop a three-game losing streak in their first outing since Keyshawn Johnson was deactivated for the remainder of the season because of differences with Coach Jon Gruden.

"So far, so good," said Gruden, who had decided last week that Keyshawn Johnson's desire to leave Tampa after this season had become a distraction he and General Manager Rich McKay could no longer ignore.

"I think our team responded on the practice field all week," Gruden said. "We've got a chance to get back to .500 next week. We'll see what happens."

Charles Lee, one of the receivers getting more playing time because of Keyshawn Johnson's absence, scored on a 53-yard reception. Thomas Jones scored on a one-yard run, and Martin Gramatica finished a second-half drive with a 21-yard field goal.

Tampa Bay's defense, redeeming itself after yielding winning drives the previous three weeks, forced four turnovers by Kerry Collins and sacked the Giants' quarterback three times. John Lynch's interception with under four minutes to play helped ensure the outcome.

"I made a couple of stupid throws, and it ended up hurting us at the end," Collins said.

Matt Bryant kicked two 30-yard field goals for the Giants, who cut a 17-6 deficit to four points when Frank Walker intercepted a pass intended for Joe Jurevicius and returned it 56 yards for a touchdown with 12:42 remaining in the fourth quarter.

But instead of wilting down the stretch, as they did in falling to New Orleans, Carolina and Green Bay during the three-game losing streak, the Buccaneers held on this time. The Giants took an intentional safety with 1:57 to go, then failed to recover an onside kick.

"It felt good to close someone out," Lynch said.

The loss was the sixth in eight games for New York (4-7), which watched its playoff prospects all but disappear with five games remaining. Still, Coach Jim Fassel hasn't abandoned hope of salvaging the season.

"I'm fully confident they'll come out and fight and play hard," Fassel said. "We've just got to eliminate the things that are costing us the games."

The Giants, much like Tampa Bay, have hurt themselves with turnovers and costly penalties all year.

Collins' fumble spoiled a promising drive in the first quarter and Tampa Bay would not have scored its first touchdown without help from three penalties on the Giant defense.

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