Driven to distraction, Bucs make bold move

ON THE NFL

November 23, 2003|By KEN MURRAY

Ernie Accorsi remembers the ill will created in 1977 when Baltimore Colts wide receiver Roger Carr stayed out of camp until the week before the season started.

"Players were anonymously sniping at him," said Accorsi, the New York Giants general manager who worked for the Colts back then. "We had a chance to win. We had won two straight division titles. We put him in the game [at Seattle] and his touchdown put the game away.

"He caught a bomb from Bert Jones. I think there were 45 guys hugging him on the field. It lasts until you make a play."

And sometimes it lasts until you're sent away, much like Keyshawn Johnson with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers last week. When coach Jon Gruden finally had his fill of the petulant receiver, the Bucs sent Johnson home to California for the rest of the season to await a new work address.

Distractions are what you make of them. "You overcome those things," Accorsi said. The Bucs overcame theirs by firing the leading receiver on their Super Bowl championship team, causing a national stir.

It became clear in the aftermath that the 4-6 Bucs made the right choice.

"There's some impressionable guys in here," Bucs cornerback Ronde Barber said the next day, "and you can't afford at this point to have a split locker room because of some guy's opinion or some guy's attitude. They made the necessary decision."

Johnson's dissatisfaction with his role in the offense and his criticism of Gruden finally wore some teammates to the bone.

"It wasn't like he was around here being a jerk all the time," safety John Lynch said. "That's not his personality. ... But it just was clear that he didn't want to be here. That affects karma in the locker room. That affects everything."

Curiously, there's been an excess of negativity clinging to wide receivers this season. All of them, it seems, are complaining about something.

If it isn't Keyshawn Johnson, it's Kevin Johnson, who got cut by the Cleveland Browns the previous week even though he led the team in catches. Or San Francisco's Terrell Owens. Or San Diego's David Boston. Or Pittsburgh's Plaxico Burress. Or Indianapolis' Marvin Harrison.

This rash of bad behavior by wide receivers largely comes with the territory. Wide-outs are often loners by choice and self-absorbed by nature.

"If you're the tailback, you're getting the ball," Accorsi said. "As far as getting the ball, [receiver] is the only position it's distributed."

When Accorsi was general manager of the old Cleveland Browns and Bill Belichick was the coach, the team suspended wide receiver Reggie Langhorne in 1991 when he refused to practice. Langhorne, of course, appealed the suspension and was gone the next year.

The Bucs chose not to take Johnson's money, only his place on the field.

"This way, they extracted the problem," said Accorsi, whose team faces the Bucs tomorrow night. "It was a very smooth way of handling it."

AROUND THE LEAGUE

Tough in crunch time

It's easy to see how second-year coach John Fox has made his imprint on the Carolina Panthers. They're tougher, more disciplined and much better in the fourth quarter.

After going 1-10 in games decided by three points or fewer the past two years, the Panthers are 6-0 in that category this year. That includes three road games won with overtime field goals.

Fox retooled the Carolina defense last year and brought in running back Stephen Davis and quarterback Jake Delhomme for the offense this year. Davis allows the Panthers to dictate to their opponents and Delhomme has demonstrated fourth-quarter poise.

So far it adds up to an 8-2 record going into today's game in Dallas, and the inside track to home-field advantage in the NFC playoffs.

Familiar script

There are some eerie similarities between Kansas City's current season and the Chiefs' last Super Bowl campaign in 1969. Both teams were 9-1 after 10 games. Both teams' lone loss came in Cincinnati by identical 24-19 scores.

And both years, the Chiefs' 11th game brought Oakland to Kansas City. The Raiders won the meeting in 1969, 27-24.

It's also worth noting that the Chiefs beat the Minnesota Vikings in the 1970 Super Bowl, 23-7.

Cleveland countdown

Cleveland Browns cornerback Daylon McCutcheon knows a trend when he sees one. And he knows that he and quarterback Tim Couch are the last two players left on Cleveland's roster from the 1999 draft, when the team returned to the league under coach Chris Palmer.

Barring a restoration of his starting job, Couch almost certainly will be gone next year. Because of a $1.3 million option bonus due in March, McCutcheon wonders if he won't be there as well in the continuing Butch Davis makeover.

"If you look at the way things have been going, everyone from the past is gone," he said. "I just think I've played well, but I think it's naive of me to think I'm the one player they want to stick around here."

Heartless

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