With the Bucs clinging to a 24-21 lead in the fourth quarter against the Chargers and San Diego driving, quarterback Philip Rivers rolled to the right and he threw the ball.
Leonard Johnson was wide open. The only problem? He plays for the Buccaneers.
“I was shocked,” Johnson told PFT by phone after Sunday’s game. “I had no clue he’d throw that to me.” Johnson, an undrafted rookie corner from Iowa State who now has an interception in three straight games, said he hesitated before he started running the other way, because it just seemed like it all shouldn’t have been happening.
Johnson said he wasn’t concerned that Chargers guard Louis Vasquez may catch him, even though Vasquez and his 335 pounds seemed to be closing in. “I would have cut inside if I thought he could get me,” Johnson said, adding that he was a little tired because the interception came after a long drive by San Diego.
As the Bucs move over .500 for the first time this year, Johnson is becoming a key piece of the defensive backfield. He said that, when the team traded cornerback Aqib Talib to New England, no one told Johnson he’d need to step up. They didn’t have to.
“I know I’d have to step up,” Johnson said. He attributes his three interceptions to being in the right place at the right time, thanks to pressure from the defensive line.
Off the field, the right place has been the place there’s no place like. Johnson, who went to high school in the Tampa area, has been living at home with his mother.
“It keeps me grounded and keeps me humble,” he said. “Mom is there to tell me what to do.”
Among other things, his mom is telling him to do chores. “I got smart,” he said. “I have a couple of game checks in the bank, so I hired maids to do them.”
The way he has played, he’ll be able to hire plenty of maids, despite not being drafted. “The draft made Leonard Johnson,” he said. “I felt like I was back to how I grew up, working for everything I had.”
So far, it’s working out for Johnson, and for the Buccaneers. They’re 5-4 and on their way to a potential wild-card berth.