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 Bucs (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 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,'' the coach added. ``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 1-yard run, and Martin Gramatica finished a long 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 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 a pair of 30-yard field goals for New York, which trimmed 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 Bucs 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 the Bucs, 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 New York defense, which was flagged for grabbing Brad Johnson's facemask twice.
The costliest of the penalties was a facemask call on Keith Hamilton, which wiped out a third-down sack that would have forced Tampa Bay to settle for a field goal. Instead, the drive gained new life with a first down at the Giants 3.
Jones scored three plays later from the 1 for a 7-0 lead. Three minutes later, Lee's TD reception made it 14-3.
New York wasted a scoring opportunity when Simeon Rice sacked Collins, forcing a fumble on the last play of the first half. Another march inside the Tampa Bay 20 produced Bryant's 30-yard field goal, making it 14-6 early in the third quarter.
Collins completed 18 of 34 passes for 160 yards and was intercepted twice. The Bucs, meanwhile, played their best run defense in a month, limiting Tiki Barber to 55 yards on 13 carries.
``I thought we kept him in check. No huge runs,'' said Ronde Barber, Tiki's twin brother. ``We respect him. We knew we had to stop him.''
Brad Johnson finished 22-for-32 with one interception. Keenan McCardell had nine receptions for 83 yards, and Lee had five catches for 91 yards. Jurevicius, who moved into Keyshawn Johnson's starting spot, had three receptions for 43 yards.