S John Lynch is one of three Buc defenders on AP's first-team squad
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers trailed only the St. Louis Rams in the final National Football Conference standings, going 11-5 to earn the second seed in the playoffs behind the 13-3 Rams. Though a Bucs-Rams matchup in the NFC Championship Game is still far from guaranteed, such a contest would pit perhaps the greatest collection of individual talent in the NFL this season.
That is the case if you agree with the Associated Press' All-Pro team, released on Saturday. The Bucs and Rams each had four players named to the first-team squad, tying for the most in the NFL. Fittingly, three of the Bucs' four selections came from the team's vaunted defense while three of the Rams four picks came from the league's number-one offense.
Earning first-team AP All-Pro nods from the Buccaneers were DT Warren Sapp, LB Derrick Brooks, S John Lynch and FB Mike Alstott. The Rams placed QB Kurt Warner, RB Marshall Faulk, T Orlando Pace and DE Kevin Carter.
Alstott was named to AP's first team for the third consecutive year after being a second-team choice as a rookie in 1996. He is now the first player in the 24-year history of the Buccaneers franchise to earn first team honors three times. Alstott led the Buccaneers in rushing with 949 yards on 242 carries and also paced the team with nine touchdowns.
Derrick Brooks earned his first selection to the first team after being a second-team choice in 1998. Brooks led the team in tackles for the third time in the last four seasons, piling up 180 stops to go with two sacks, four interceptions, 18 passes defensed, two forced fumbles and two fumble recoveries.
Brooks spoke to the Associated Press about his selection. "It's a tremendous honor," he said. "I think making the Pro Bowl is special, but being All-Pro is even more special because you're regarded as the top at your position in the league. And I think the fact that three of my teammates made it as well speaks volumes for our team."
One of those teammates, Sapp, matched Brooks' accomplishment by going from a second-team pick in 1998 to a first-teamer this year. Sapp paced the Buccaneers with 12.5 sacks, just one-half sack off the all-time Buccaneer record, and added 54 tackles, three forced fumbles and two fumble recoveries. He was named the NFL Defensive Player of the Month in September.
Sapp also spoke to the Associated Press. "The more games you win, the more people look at your ballclub," he said. "And with this ballclub, they're going to keep finding good players. ... All of us don't have the personality of the mouth that I have. But all of us play this game at a high level and an efficient level."
As Sapp mentions, the Buccaneers' success in 1999 has uncovered some slightly lower-profile players worthy of All-Pro inclusion. Specifically, the AP tabbed Lynch, who has emerged as the NFC's top strong safety, a position he will man in the Pro Bowl. Lynch, already considered one of the league's most punishing hitters, earned praise for his pass-coverage skills as well in 1999, adding two interceptions and 14 passes defensed to his 128 tackles. This is Lynch's first selection to the AP All-Pro squad, first or second team.
In 1997, when the Buccaneers ended a 16-year playoff drought by going 10-6 and earning the top Wild Card berth, Alstott and LB Hardy Nickerson became the first pair of Buccaneers to earn first-team AP All-Pro recognition in the same year. That the Bucs were able to double that in 1999 is an indication of the depth of talent that has been assembled on the current squad. The same could be said of the Rams. Whether those eight AP All-Pros and their equally deserving teammates will get a chance to toe the line against each other in January depends on next weekend's action in the NFC Divisional Playoffs.