Ball Hog

Just give him the damn ball. That's all Keyshawn Johnson wants. Well, even that hasn't kept Tampa Bay's flashy wide receiver quiet. You would think an NFL-leading 93 catches would be enough to keep a guy happy. Or even the eight-year, $56 million contract he signed two years ago when the New York Jets traded him to the Buccaneers.

Johnson doesn't sleep unless he gets into the end zone. And, if you're keeping track at home, he's had a few sleepless nights this season.

Sure, those 93 receptions for 1,077 yards looks good on a resume, but Johnson just got his first touchdown of the season last week -- after 12 games. His acrobatic-like 13-yard TD reception in the corner of the end zone in the final minute pushed the Bucs to a 15-12 victory over the hapless Lions.

"It's not that big a deal to me, it's more of a relief to the media," Johnson said. "I just try to help the team by moving the chains, and no matter where I'm at on the football field, you have to account for me. I just happened to score a touchdown and it just happened to be one that won the game."

It sounds like Johnson is content, doesn't it? But he was just starting.

"The quarterback and the (offensive) coordinator are the only people that can stop me from performing on the football field," he said. "They've done a good job lately of trying to get me the ball and to help the team and get to 7-5.

"They've done a good job all season long of putting me in position to catch balls and there's no complaints. You lead the league in catches, you score TDs, you've got a 1,000 yards, your team is 7-5, you look like you have a possible playoff shot, so there's no complaints from anybody."

Johnson, who wrote the book Just Give Me the Damn Ball! after his rookie season in 1996, has passion for the game and takes pride in his performance unlike a lot of professionals. He's fiery and flamboyant, and doesn't hesitate to speak his mind.

Johnson said Wednesday during a conference call at Halas Hall that asking for the ball against Detroit was the first time he had done so during his time in Tampa.

"He's got a short memory, then," Tampa Bay coach Tony Dungy said with a laugh.

It turned out to be a pretty good idea, though. Giving Johnson the ball was in the Buccaneers' best interest, as the star wideout's receptions covered 59 of the 80 yards needed on the winning scoring drive.

Johnson's 10-catch, 101-yard performance against Detroit put his name in the Tampa Bay record books. He topped Mark Carrier's single-season record of 86 receptions in 1989. He's also on pace to surpass Herman Moore, who holds the NFL single-season record of 123 receptions set in 1995.

Johnson had a season-high 12 catches for 89 yards in the Bears' 27-24 victory over Tampa Bay on Nov. 18. The Bucs (7-5), who haven't lost since that game, are still fighting for a playoff spot and have an outside shot at the NFC Central title. The Bears (9-3) need to keep pace with the Packers, and a win would guarantee them a playoff spot.

Johnson, who was traded to Tampa Bay for two first-round draft picks, has already topped his previous personal-best of 89 receptions in 1999 with the Jets.

"I think it's just a matter of the offensive coordinator and quarterback understanding the player they have on offense, and putting me in position to help this football team," Johnson said.

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