LB Derrick Brooks has a Pro Bowl to prepare for but otherwise sees the benefit from getting away from football right now
Derrick Brooks will be watching the NFL playoffs over the next month. He can't help it; he's a football fan.
Many of his teammates, he figures, won't be tuning in. Like him, they're walking away from the 2004 season with a mixture of disappointment, anger and befuddlement. What went wrong to send the Bucs, with such high hopes back in August, to 5-11? The answers (and solutions) will be sought over the next few months. For now, however, some Buccaneers aren't too keen on watching their peers chase the ultimate prize.
Brooks understands that emotion. His advice to everyone who has called 'The Woodshed' home for the past five months: Make yourself scarce for awhile.
"The top priority right now is to get away from here," said Brooks. "Get away from this, get your body rest, mentally and physically. I think that's the most important thing right now."
Brooks will also need to spend some time getting ready for the Pro Bowl, to be played the week after the Super Bowl, on February 13. Most of his teammates won't have to think about football until the 2005 offseason program begins in March. At the Pro Bowl, he and fellow Buc Ronde Barber will mingle with dozens of players who just finished the playoffs, some of them with brand new Super Bowl experiences. That might be tough, but Brooks says he will personally be able to put the emotions of 2004 behind him immediately.
"I'm not going to stay mad at all," said the 10-year veteran. "I bury this season, really, as of right now. I'll go back and evaluate myself and how I played, but that's evaluating me to get better, not evaluating the team as 5-11."
On Monday, however, as he left Buc headquarters after the final team meeting of '04, Brooks allowed himself some reflection on the season and admitted to a significant level of frustration. What bothered the eight-time Pro Bowler the most about 2004, not to mention 2003, was the preponderance of games that could have been won.
"Twenty losses in two years is not where I expected us to be going after a Super Bowl Championship," he said. "Even more frustrating than that is, probably 16 of those losses are by seven points or less. The more I think about it, it may not be all Xs and Os. You've got to trust now that the feelings that everyone is feeling, the disappointment and anger, are targeted in the right direction, in making preparations for the 2005 season."
Brooks knows there will be changes in the team when it reconvenes for mini-camps and workouts over the spring. That is inevitable, in every NFL city, in the era of free agency. He also knows that, while players are getting some much needed rest and distance from the game, the Bucs' brain trust will be throwing itself immediately into its efforts to improve the team in 2005.
"You can say the efforts are there, the Xs and Os part, we're doing it," said Brooks. "For some reason, whatever it is, we need to find it here over the next 90 days in preparing ourselves for the 2005 season. I don't have the answer. If I did, it would probably be solved. The good thing is, I don't have to come up with the answer myself."
Brooks also expressed his unshaken confidence in the Bucs' coaching staff, as well as his belief that Tampa Bay had more talent on its roster in 2004 than a 5-11 season would indicate. He mused over the concept, voiced by a teammate, that a change of attitude might be needed from some players.
All of that must be addressed. For Buccaneer players, however, none of it takes priority over Step One: Cleansing themselves of the emotions of 2004.
"Just like we had to put it behind us when we won a championship, we've got to put a 5-11 season behind us, too," said Brooks. "Not let this linger on until the offseason program but really get away and put this season behind us. There's nothing we can do about it. We can't get it back. Learn from it, but make sure we bury it."