TAMPA — Donald Penn loves the spotlight. He is prideful and wants to be recognized among the best, something that's hard to do when no one's watching.
Thursday night, everyone was.
Penn, the Bucs left tackle, wanted to live up to the moment against one of the game's best pass rushers, Vikings DE Jared Allen.
"I try to measure myself in these games," Penn said.
"A lot of people forget about me being in little ol' Tampa. They don't think of me as one of the premier tackles. But when I have a game like this, on national TV, that's when you have to come out and show it."
Things between Penn and Allen, a four-time All-Pro, got heated in the third quarter after a play. Fists were thrown by both. Penn struck Allen in the head, and the fight knocked off Allen's helmet. Allen's nose was bloodied because of the way his helmet came off, he said. Both players were flagged for personal fouls.
With the crowd erupting, the ninth-year player sacked Josh Freeman on the next play. But Penn, in his seventh season, said there were mitigating circumstances.
"He got a lucky one on me," Penn said. "That's all right. I got bumped by the (defensive tackle). And I told him that was a lucky one, too. But that happens. I'd rather take a victory than a shutout anyway."
Allen finished with one sack, his seventh of the season (tied for third in the league), four tackles and two quarterback hits.
Of the fracas, Penn said, "That's what I do. I play to the whistle. It got a little chippy. That's football. We shook hands after the game like we're supposed to, and we have mutual respect for each other. That's the game. I have tremendous respect for the guy. He's a great player. But he still got a lucky sack on me. It should've been a shutout."
For Allen's part, he said the fracas was little more than "two people competing."
BIG SHOT: CB Leonard Johnson's performance was one of the surprises of Thursday's game, and it could result in more playing time.
Johnson, an undrafted rookie out of Iowa State and a native of Clearwater, made his first start as a third cornerback and finished with an interception, two tackles and three pass deflections. The former Largo High standout almost had a second interception but couldn't keep both feet inbounds.
The opening for playing time came about because veteran Brandon McDonald was limited by an ankle injury. Coach Greg Schiano called on Johnson over 2010 third-round draft pick Myron Lewis. Color Schiano impressed.
"Leonard stepped up and, I thought, played well," he said. "That's encouraging. You get a free agent rookie who steps up and plays on the big stage, and it wasn't too big for him. We saw him do it in the preseason. But for him to do it in a regular-season game on the road, that's good stuff."
Johnson took it all in stride, reacting with his usual humility, even after holding his own against the likes of Vikings WR Percy Harvin.
"I've been playing my role, and I'll continue playing my role whether I'm (active or inactive)," he said. "Whatever the team needs me to do, that's what I'm here for.
"You have to perform or they'll bring you right back down (on game day)."
BENNETT OKAY: DE Michael Bennett went down with a right ankle injury in the fourth quarter, but he and Schiano said it won't sideline him. The weeknight game means he and the Bucs have nine days before going to Oakland for their Nov. 4 game.
Stephen F. Holder can be reached at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter at @HolderStephen.