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From nowhere, Johnson rescuing Vikings, Green

THE BALTIMORE SUN

When Warren Moon played his first professional football game for the Edmonton Eskimos of the Canadian Football League, Brad Johnson was a 10-year-old in North Carolina.

Johnson went on to become a backup quarterback at Florida State and was drafted in the ninth round by the Minnesota Vikings in 1992.

He saw more action with the London Monarchs of the World League in the spring of 1995, passing for 2,227 yards and 13 touchdowns, than he did in four years with the Vikings.

He didn't get into a game his first two years, and as a backup to Moon, he played in nine games the last two years. He passed for 422 yards, but failed to connect for a touchdown.

But Johnson has emerged from obscurity, replacing an ailing Moon and taking the Vikings to the brink of the playoffs with an 8-6 record.

He threw three touchdown passes Sunday night against the Detroit Lions to lead Minnesota to a 24-22 victory.

"We've had confidence in Brad since the first time he came in," wide receiver Jake Reed said. "But now he knows that he can play in this league and we know that he can win."

Backed by a 66-yard rushing performance from former Raven Leroy Hoard, Johnson completed 19 of 29 passes for 195 yards against the Lions.

With the Vikes' final two games against the Bays -- Tampa and Green -- Johnson, who has started his team's last five games, has a chance to lead Minnesota to a sweep of its final four games for the first time in franchise history. He has 10 touchdown passes and four interceptions the past four weeks.

"Brad did a great job" against the Lions, said Vikings coach Dennis Green. "He did everything he could possibly do. He converted third downs, and he hit open receivers."

He also may be in the process of saving Green's job. Now that the team has a shot at a playoff spot, the talk of Lou Holtz replacing Green has subsided.

"I enjoy who I play for, and that's Denny," Johnson said recently.

"The guys love playing for Denny. He puts us in the best situation as far as winning. The losses we've got haven't been his fault."

One thing Green did was go with the healthy Johnson instead of letting Moon try to play on a bad ankle.

If Johnson takes the team to the playoffs this year, his timing couldn't be better. He'll be a free agent and will have a lot of leverage at the bargaining table.

Packers don't wow Bronco

Tyrone Braxton of Denver wasn't impressed by the Packers' 41-6 rout of the Broncos on Sunday.

Braxton is betting the Dallas Cowboys will be the NFC representative in the Super Bowl.

Braxton also wasn't happy with what he felt was taunting by Packers wide receiver Antonio Freeman, who waved the ball in front of Denver cornerback Lionel Washington in the end zone after catching a 51-yard touchdown pass in the third period.

"He was talking to Tory," Braxton said of cornerback Tory James. "That's the thing that got me mad. I just ran back to the huddle. I was yelling, 'Antonio, Antonio. I'm going to get you.' "

Packers coach Mike Holmgren warned Freeman about holding the ball up before he got to the end zone.

"That will cost him some money. Cross the goal line and then do whatever you have to do," Holmgren said.

Meanwhile, Braxton predicted the Packers won't make it to the Super Bowl.

He said: "If we got to the Super Bowl, I'd rather play Dallas. If you're going to unseat somebody, I'd want it to be them."

Why won't the Packers make it?

"One word," he said. "Dallas."

Unhappy Rice

Jerry Rice caught 10 passes for a season-high 129 yards in San Francisco's 30-24 loss to Carolina on Sunday, but he wasn't happy that only one ball was thrown to him on the final drive.

"The only thing I'm very disappointed about is toward the end. I want the ball. That's when everything is on the line. Just get me the ball and I'll make the play somehow," he said.

Instead, Steve Young's high pass to Terrell Owens was intercepted to end San Francisco's last drive.

When Rice left the locker room, he was escorted by a 49ers

security aide because he requested a meeting with team president Carmen Policy. When Rice is unhappy, he doesn't hesitate to go right to the top.

He spoke to his teammates after the game about the 49ers' uncharacteristic lack of poise in the loss to the Panthers.

Coach George Seifert agreed with him on that point.

"For whatever reason, we came unglued," he said. "There was too much 'in-your-face' football and too many penalties [a team-record 15]."

Road rough on Ravens, Saints

After Atlanta won Sunday in New Orleans, the only two teams that have failed to win a road game this year are the Ravens and New Orleans.

While the Ravens get one more shot to win on the road, playing Carolina Sunday, the Saints play both of their final two on the road -- at the New York Giants and at Carolina.

K. Johnson down on Jets

Keyshawn Johnson, the No. 1 pick in the draft by the New York Jets last year, isn't thrilled with the 1-13 team.

"I've never seen so much negativity. Whether it's coming from the coaches, players no one ever thinks positive. It's always on the negative side. You come here every single day and hear somebody bickering or complaining about this or that," he said.

Johnson, though, gives himself good grades for his 56 catches ** for 722 yards and seven touchdowns.

"I'm happy with my performance this year. I think I'm worth every penny [$15 million over six years] they paid me. I think I've done a fine job in what I've been allowed to do," he said.

Around the league

Jim Everett's string of 45 straight starts ended in New Orleans' game against the Falcons. He sat out after suffering a concussion the previous week. Among active quarterbacks, only Brett Favre of Green Bay has a longer streak with 76 straight starts. Once Everett went down, Mark Brunell of Jacksonville became the only quarterback to take every snap this year. Dan Marino is struggling, but he's now thrown a touchdown pass against every team but the two expansion clubs after getting one against the Giants on Sunday. He has yet to play against the two expansion teams. After their loss Sunday, the San Diego Chargers are 0-11 at Three Rivers Stadium in the regular season, but 2-0 in the playoffs. Tampa Bay outrushed the Washington Redskins 209-41 Sunday. Two years ago, the Bucs outrushed them 213-10. Lawrence Phillips of the St. Louis Rams continued to struggle in his rookie year, gaining 8 yards in five carries against the Chicago Bears. Curtis Martin of New England became the 15th NFL player to rush for 1,000 yards in each of his first two seasons.

Pub Date: 12/11/96

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